“Farm Bill: Produce should be half the plate, but the Farm Bill spends less than 8% on specialty crops programs. Congress must provide a better balance of resources for produce and specialty crops in the upcoming Farm Bill.
“Labor: The fresh produce industry cannot survive in America unless Congress passes meaningful immigration reform that ensures us access to an affordable, predictable, and reliable workforce.
“Food Safety: FDA must follow through on their cultural transformation to modernize the agency, to be more collaborative, transparent, and effective. Congress must hold FDA accountable.
“Nutrition: To expand healthy nutrition and grow produce consumption, we must utilize the fresh produce supply chain to end hunger and reduce diet related disease.”
Being a loyal, tax-paying citizen, I feel entitled to make some comments of my own.
Farm Bill: A meaningful portion of the House of Representatives is threatening to shut down the government on October 1 because of excessive federal spending. I will not give my own opinion on this matter, but ask yourself: are you opposed to big government spending for everything but your own industry?
Labor: What kind of immigration reform do you want really? One that gives you access to immigrant labor without any corresponding responsibilities? The National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE) has recently pointed out that only 5 percent of agricultural employers account for 95 percent of violations. Very true. And what is to be done with those violators? Why are agricultural organizations so defensive about violators rather than condemning them? Are the laws against murder an insult to the 99 percent of people who do not commit murders?
As for current H-2A regulations, there are wide—but vaguely worded—complaints that they are expensive and cumbersome. These are indirect ways of saying that employers don’t like paying for travel and accommodation for guestworkers. Quite understandable. But do you imagine that the federal government is going to create or support any sort of program without these measures?
I believe that agricultural interests need to be much more clear-headed and realistic—with the public and with themselves—about their requirements for immigrant labor. No doubt many would love to have carte blanche, but that isn’t going to happen, and asking for it will simply bring more accusations of “human slavery” like those of UN representative Tomoya Obokata. H-2A’s new set of proposed rules – Produce Blue Book
So what can agriculture live with?
It’s normal in negotiations to ask for much more than you’re willing to accept, but that also means being realistic about what you are going to accept.
Food Safety and Nutrition: From my previous columns, you may know my views: federal policy on these important matters will never be managed adequately with the current awkward assemblage of administration by USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What is needed is an independent Department of Food and Nutrition that administers food stamps and monitors food safety (among other functions), to be headed by a cabinet-level secretary.
For at least the last 40 years, agriculture has been moaning about the need to “tell our story” to the public. It has moved closer and closer toward understanding that “telling our story” is as much about listening as it is about telling, but there is still a long way to go.