(June 5) It seems good public relations is always the low hanging fruit of the produce industry.

Seriously, do you have any idea what good publicity fruits and vegetables are getting lately? Deservedly so, no doubt.

The latest example is the Reuters Health wire story that began: “An apple a day may not be enough to keep the doctor way but, five apples just might.”

The story goes on to extol the virtues of produce, as you might guess. A recent survey, as it goes, reports that healthy adults who consumed at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily had lower blood pressure than adults who consumed fewer servings over a six-month period.

If extended to the general population, the research indicated increased consumption of fruits and vegetables would translate into a 17% reduction in the rate of high blood pressure, 6% lower risk of coronary heart disease and 15% fewer strokes.

However, not everything is picture perfect.

One troublesome medical-related quirk for the grapefruit industry is that more and more blood pressure medications discourage the use of grapefruit juice.

One health Web site I visited advised that if you are taking any of the “statins” or cholesterol-lowering medications and beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers for blood pressure, grapefruit juice is “off limits” because of its impact on how the medication is absorbed by the body.

The site noted that some hospitals have even eliminated grapefruit juice as a beverage option to eliminate the risk.

That’s unfortunate for many middle-age and older Americans, who like to drink grapefruit juice but have to take blood pressure medication. Key grapefruit consumers are being discouraged by doctors to consume fruit that has ample reason to tout health benefits.

That isn’t good news.

The Florida Department of Citrus must skew its grapefruit juice marketing (ala “Sex in the City”) to a younger crowd or find research that makes an effective counterpunch to the new status quo.

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In the “Wouldn’t it be great department,” what if the Environmental Protection Agency became a full-fledged partner in 5 a Day?

No, it won’t happen, but that development could take some of the tension out of the industry’s relationship with EPA — a relationship that likely to be further tested in the years ahead.

A big part of that equation is the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996. The act calls for the agency to reassess two-thirds of all pesticide tolerances by Aug. 3. One Washington, D.C., source said the agency still needs to assess 500 to 600 organophosphates by that time to meet the deadline.

The EPA’s job is to consider how the cumulative risk from a like-acting class of pesticides (organophosphates) affect consumers. How the agency defines the risk cup — the total dietary risk from organophosphates — will have an extremely critical bearing on the travail production agriculture and produce marketers endure.

Good press won’t likely be the low-hanging fruit with FQPA.

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Government-conducted shipping point inspections/audits for good agricultural practices are finding favor among grower-shippers, but will retailers buy into the program?

A new federal-state program using shipping point inspectors to conduct pass-fail good agricultural practices audits has certified 11 shippers in California, one in New Jersey and five in Oregon as of May 30.

Alex Ott, director of government relations for the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno, Calif., said the brand new program is saving the industry money while performing a needed service.

Costs of the GAP audit can run $65 an hour, and a typical audit can take three or four hours. However, Ott said that some audits conducted by for-profit companies can cost thousands of dollars.

A big question mark is whether retailers will accept a pass-fail audit. Some have already, and Ott believes many more will.

“You can’t assign a number to food safety. Why is 90 better than an 80?” he said.

While he said a lot of retailers feel a scoring system is needed, he believes they will understand the audit is a definite government standard that speaks to the food safety question. A list of the shippers who have passed the audit is listed at this USDA Web site — www.ams.usda.gov/fv/fpbgapghp.htm.