California Ahead of the Curve on Food Safety
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Tom Stenzel, President and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, a lobbying group in Washington D.C., recently spoke with California Ag Today about new developments in food safety as well as some recent issues in regards to labor.
“Our industry’s been revolutionized in the commitment to food safety over the last ten years. Everybody from the ground up through the processing facilities … it’s our number one priority. The same time, the feds have these new rules and regulations that are coming out with some compliance states starting now in 2018, so we’re just trying to make sure that it is reasonable enforcement that the Feds understand as they’re looking at farms, looking at processing facilities, that we’re in this together. Ultimately, all of us just want to make sure that consumers have safe food,” Stenzel said.
Stenzel said many producers in California are already ahead of the curve when it comes to food safety.
“I mean, you look at the leafy greens industry on the Central Coast: They’ve been ready for a good while with very high produce safety standards,” he noted. “But … there’s some areas across the country where it’s going to be a little bit more challenging. But that’s OK, too, because everybody wants to raise their game. They want to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to deliver safe food.”
Stenzel noted that labor is a big issue, especially in California.
“The number one issue I’m hearing across the country from fruit and vegetable agriculture is the shortage of labor. Now for us, the solution – it’s going to be two parts. It’s got to be a new future guest worker program, and for that, we really thank U.S. Congressman and Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte for raising the issue [and] pushing a bill. It’s not everything we want to see, but at least he’s raising his head on that issue,” Stenzel said. “However, we need to deal with the current workforce.”
“We also need to have a bigger commitment to get legal status for those who are already here. These are men and women who’ve been here for twenty years,” he explained. “This is their home where they have raised their families, they’ve got children who are U.S. citizens and they’re working in our fields. We can’t deport them. That doesn’t make sense as a country and certainly not as an agricultural industry.”