US: Washington Public Policy Conference makes an impact on Capitol Hill

More than 500 industry leaders carried the produce message to the offices of senators and representatives from 30 states in the annual March on Capitol Hill. The 2012 Washington Public Policy Conference attracted attendees from 36 states, Canada, Greece, Italy and Mexico. The event featured speakers with an array of perspectives on current industry hot-topics and market segment education sessions that sparked dialogue on the latest pressing issues.

“This year’s WPPC really highlighted the passion and focus that United Fresh members put towards their advocacy efforts,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “We had a strong turnout of members who were engaged in all aspects of the program. Between the congressional visits and the education sessions, the event was productive, spirited, and overall, a success!”

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan highlighted USDA’s support for specialty crops in her keynote remarks, just days after the September 30 expiration of the Farm Bill. “We have seen such dividends from the 2008 Farm Bill,” she said, and called the lack of action on a 2012 Farm Bill “an unnecessary speed bump for agriculture.” Merrigan cautioned that the USDA could face a $3 billion budget cut in sequestration, with potentially devastating consequences for specialty crop programs. She also reaffirmed USDA’s position on the new school meal requirements, saying, “These are important standards. The science says to make half your plate fruits and vegetables, and that is where USDA stands.”

Market segment education sessions brought together panels of experts to discuss the latest developments in labor, nutrition, food safety and social media. The Grower-Shipper session presented strategies to manage a workforce in a harsh labor environment, while the Wholesale-Distributor session focused on opportunities to drive produce sales through school lunch programs. A large crowd in the Fresh-Cut Processor session heard about the outlook for pathogen testing by government agencies, and Retail-Foodservice attendees learned how to engage positively with consumers on social media and how to avoid becoming the target of online activism.

Thanks to the generous support of 200 contributors, United FreshPAC raised more than $80,000 at this year’s FreshPAC dinner. Contributors enjoyed the spectacular view of Washington, DC from the rooftop of Charlie Palmer’s. The event featured candid remarks from former Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-CA) about the political landscape on Capitol Hill, followed by sharp political satire by the Capitol Steps. 100 percent of the FreshPAC funds will be used to support members of Congress who understand fresh fruit and vegetable priorities and have demonstrated themselves to be allies to the industry.

“The Washington Public Policy Conference is such an important event in that it reminds Congress how policies affect our industry,” said Robert Guenther, United Fresh senior vice president of public policy. “Hearing from constituents influences lawmakers’ priorities, and I encourage United Fresh members to follow up on their congressional visits to help drive a successful grassroots advocacy campaign that preserves the gains the specialty crop industry has made.”

Source: United Fresh

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