The biggest immediate worry I had today was whether there would still be a well-stocked dessert table in the break room 30 minutes after our heavily-attended company barbecue party. I rolled the dice and, viola, a return trip to the break room found it still sagging from plenty of sweet treats.

That was my “first world” problem today, which wasn’t a problem at all.

 But life is not all strawberry shortcake, contrary to my experience today. I asked the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group this question, and I want your response, too:

What are the top three produce industry worries for the balance of 2014?

Some responses so far include traceability, ability to minimize recalls, soaring fuel prices, the fear of another market crash and a long and protracted fight over amnesty/immigration reform.

 There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged about the prospects for immigration reform, based on the recent comments of President Obama. House Republicans say they don’t trust President Obama, and that reality apparently can’t be altered, no matter persistent industry lobbying efforts and the cross-country fly-ins to D.C. by growers of every type.

President Obama promises executive action, but will these moves be favorable for the industry?

And this economy isn’t inspiring a lot of confidence. The most recent National Restaurant Association poll of foodservice operators said that only 28% of those surveyed believe economic conditions will improve in the next six months. Fifteen percent said they expect the economy to shrink and 57% said they expect economic conditions to stay about the same.

Many growers likely are worried about the long term effects of the Western drought. In this piece on, federal meteorologist Brad Rippey said that at currrent usage rates, California has less than two years of water remaining. While the drought may not have a huge impact this year, growers and their buyers can spend plenty worrying about what the future will look like.

This NPR feature follows water well drillers in their search for shrinking groundwater supplies. 

Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act also is sure to be a top of mind concern for the industry for years to come, and industry leaders are spelling out exactly what concerns them about the FDA’s proposed food safety regulations so far.

From Naturipe Farms LLC, excerpts of comments to the FDA from Donna Lynn Browne, director of food safety & social responsibility for Naturipe:

The definition of foreign supplier needs more variability and explanation. Right now it states that a foreign supplier is, “the establishment that manufactures/processes the food, raises the animal, or harvests the food that is exported to the United States without further manufacturing/processing by another establishment, except for further manufacturing/processing that consists solely of the addition of labeling or any similar activity of a de minimis nature”.

Is the establishment the company, the packhouse or individual farm? What about the use of the packhouses or other aggregator, as the establishment. In some cases it would be the farm, in others not. When the packhouse or aggregator falls under the PC rule then it should be the establishment and not the farms feeding it. The packhouse/aggregator itself would monitor the food safety of its fruit via a supplier verification program. If the produce is field packed then the establishment would be the farm itself.

We are also concerned about the FDA proposing modified requirements for very small importers or for importing food from a very small supplier and limiting requirements to compliance. If this happens we see the very real possibility of ‘creative business titling’ occurring to avoid the more stringent rules and that is just not right! Reducing the limit from 500k to 25k would be much better but we still feel strongly, as we did in our comments in the produce rule that food safety events do not care about annual sales.

Last but not least, FDA’s definition of farm and farming activities is too limited, and operations, including foreign suppliers, that only perform activities on raw, intact produce and which result in products that are still raw, intact produce, should be covered by requirements of the Produce Safety rule.


TK: Like me, you could be a glass half full, dessert plate full kind of guy. But if you want to take your shot at the “biggest worries” for the industry, check out the discussion thread here



Check out the FDA’s link to a public meeting transcript from Oct. 22-23 on the FSMA Proposed Rules on Foreign Supplier Verification Programs and the Accreditation of Third-Party Auditors/Certification Bodies.