The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) held its Spring Policy and Regulatory Forum in Washington. In addition, it carried out a series of meetings with members of Congress to discuss the industry’s needs and concerns regarding food safety, nutrition, labor, and the Farm Bill that is up for reauthorization this year.
Over 250 industry leaders and volunteers attended the forum that brought together industry volunteers to discuss issues important to the industry. The IFPA Board of Directors held a meeting in conjunction with this event.
After a series of committee and council meetings and education sessions, volunteers marched on the Hill to meet with elected officials, members of the Administration, and Embassy professionals.
The Forum began on April 25 with expert presentations and panels covering topics from traceability to the Farm Bill.
In her opening remarks, IFPA CEO Cathy Burns reminded the audience that “a year ago, our industry was facing many challenges – ranging from inflation, market instability, global conflict. While we’re still addressing these obstacles, as an industry, our products remain at the center of the conversation when it comes to changing the health of our citizens and the world.”
“Nutrition, health, climate, labor, farm bill, food safety – all of these are topics of importance to legislators, their staff, and most importantly, the constituents who elected them to office,” she said.
Burns emphasized, “Your participation in this forum is especially relevant as issues like the farm bill, food safety, labor, trade, and more are being debated in Congress. You are helping us deliver on our vision to be an impactful champion for our industry through advocacy.”
Ray Starling, the author of Farmers Versus Foodies, opened the forum with a look at the forces forging the future of farming and food.
“Despite the gains in productivity and yields made by agriculture, critics remain convinced our food system is broken and is in need of a transformation,” Starling said.
“For example, farmers view themselves as sustainable by nature, while outsiders view agricultural sustainability as something to be monitored and measured.”
The Voices of the Produce Industry Are Pivotal in Washington
Starling added that the industry’s voice as a credible source of information is invaluable when discussing issues with policymakers at the federal and state levels and encouraged attendees to leverage their voice and influence in meetings with lawmakers.
“You have to compete and tell your story, prepare, and remember why your leadership matters that you are there on Capitol Hill.”
Members of IFPA’s Government Relations staff were joined by representatives from IFPA member companies, academia, regulatory agencies, and media for discussions on:
- FDA Traceability Requirements: IFPA Vice President of Supply Chain and Sustainability Ed Treacy was joined by Angela Fields, Senior Consumer Safety Officer, Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (CORE) Network, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA, and Andrew Kennedy, Principal Traceability Advisor, New Era Partners, Division of iFoodDS for a conversation around the fresh produce industry and the traceability rule that is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“It’s never too late to begin learning and working on your traceability plan,” Kennedy observed. “Traceability is not a one-and-done; it’s a system you must maintain and ensure you’re hitting your targets in a continuous improvement cycle. “
- Nutrition Opportunities via the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP): Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Food Fix Helena Bottemiller Evich moderated a discussion with Gina Plata-Nino, SNAP Deputy Director, Food Research & Action Center, and Jerold Mande, CEO, Nourish Science; Adjunct Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“One of the goals of SNAP is to improve dietary quality year over year. The program has leverage when it comes to impacting society through access, but we need to do more pilots around incentives and restrictions,” Mande offered.
- Perspectives on Mergers and Acquisitions in the Produce Industry: IFPA Chief Public Policy Officer Robert Guenther was joined by Jackie Caplan Wiggins, Advisor, Frieda’s Branded Produce; Joel Richard, Co-Lead Technology, Judiciary and Commerce Practice Group, Invariant LLC; Stefanie Katzman, Executive Vice President, S. Katzman Produce; and Elyse Lipman, Chief Executive Officer, Lipman Family Farms as they shared their points of view on consolidation in the industry.
“We think about today, tomorrow, and future generations in our organization as we build for continued growth. What got us here is not going to get us there. As we approach our 75th anniversary, we have more than 300 people who have been with the company for 20 years,” Lipman said.
Caplan Wiggins urged forum guests, especially family-owned businesses, to develop clear, written succession plans to ensure leadership continuity and a map forward.
- The Farm Bill as Food Policy: IFPA Vice President of U.S. Government Relations, Rebeckah Adcock, discussed various aspects of the Farm Bill with John Newton, Ph.D., Chief Economist (R), Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
The Farm Bill is the single largest investment in federal resources for the fresh produce industry, with $800M spent annually on more than 25 programs that help drive industry competitiveness. “The new Farm Bill will be the first trillion-dollar Farm bill ever, up from $867 billion five years ago when it was last passed,” Newton remarked.