ANALYSIS – As produce industry members visit their U.S. Representatives and Senators as part of the annual United Fresh Washington Conference Sept. 25-26, they will see successes and failures.
Personal narratives from constituents about their businesses carry more weight for congress and congressional staff members, so United Fresh urges members to use this opportunity to talk face-to-face.
Here’s a look at what United Fresh has identified as the top five issues this fall:
1. Farm bill – The current farm bill ends Sept. 30, so there’s not much time to pass a new one. The industry’s position supports the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance’s positions, which includes investments in opening and expanding foreign markets and increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables through block grants to states. Both the House and Senate versions have budgeted a significant expansion in the produce grants, which is a good step. Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition policy for United Fresh, said in a workshop Sept. 25 that the industry also supports produce vouchers that can be used in retail stores, not just farmers markets, which would make them much more accessible because they need to be usable in the places consumers already buy food.
2. Agriculture work force – Among the issues the industry would like to see are transitioning undocumented workers to legal status; improving the guest worker program; and protecting employers who have acted in good faith to have a legal work force. Unfortunately, more than one speaker at the conference has said it’s unlikely there will be any immigration bills before the November election. Industry members will likely meet with representatives who already have their positions made up. President Trump was elected in 2016 campaigning on stricter immigration laws and building a border wall, so there’s a lot of support for that position across the U.S.
3. Food safety outbreak investigations – The industry would like to see better communication to consumers during outbreaks and the creation of an independent agency managing food safety investigations and the proper funding for it. This is an issue that could get bipartisan support since it is relatively politics-free. The government should do a better job protecting both consumers and business infrastructure during and after outbreaks.
4. Trade – The produce industry has long supported free markets for trade, and of course a renegotiation of NAFTA is critical considering how many fruits and vegetables are traded among Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Unfortunately, agriculture has often been used as a pawn during trade disputes. Industry members will have compelling personal stories regarding how trade affects their businesses that Congress members need to hear. And while ag companies have suffered short-term losses in the current trade disputes, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from central Illinois, told a lunch audience Sept. 25 that his constituents in the farm community have told him they strongly support President Trump’s trade negotiating so far, particularly when it comes to China.
5. Aligning federal feeding programs with dietary guidelines – The nutrition angle is extremely compelling for the produce industry since fruits and vegetables ought to account for half a consumer’s plate, but they’re much less supported in feeding programs. This is another seemingly less political issue that should see bipartisan support. The farm bill’s Supplemental Nutrition and Access Program is being hung up on work requirements, but big increases in incentive programs for fruits and vegetables are in both Senate and House versions. The industry should keep pressing this issue so that recipients have the best access to the healthiest foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
The industry ought to see more success than failures with their Congress office visits.
Greg Johnson is the Director of Media Development at Blue Book Services, Inc.