Today, the Western Growers Board of Directors gathered in annual session to bring the needs of the fresh produce industry before administrative officials and Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C.
In speaking on the importance of the yearly fly-in, Chairman Larry Cox [Lawrence Cox Ranches; Brawley, CA] stated, “While Western Growers’ staff works admirably and effectively on our behalf on Capitol Hill, there is no substitute for our members standing face-to-face with our federal policymakers to communicate the urgency of our issues and the need for deliberative action.”
The morning began with several presentations by key agency staff, including Elanor Starmer, Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and Rebecca Buckner and Samir Assar with FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
In her remarks, Ms. Starmer discussed a range of topics, including efforts currently being undertaken by USDA to encourage drought resiliency for Western agriculture, as well as work with the agencies responsible for administering the H-2A program to make it more workable for the user community. She also expressed the intent of USDA to evolve its programs and services to address the needs of a constantly changing agricultural industry.
Dr. Buckner and Dr. Assar focused their comments on FDA activities to help the fresh produce industry implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules, and indicated that funding is available for education and outreach, as well as technical assistance to aid with compliance. Western Growers was praised as a leader in developing food safety programs and commended for its role in collaborating with the government on the creation a risk-based, commodity-specify regulatory system.
The Board also heard a presentation from Daniel Jarcho and Edward King, Partners with Alston and Bird LLP, discussing criminal liability for food safety violations under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Jarcho and King shared the responsibilities corporate agents have under the law and presented several recommendations on how to limit exposure to damages related to potential and actual public harm.
In the afternoon, the Board agenda shifted to the Capitol where they fielded a succession of meetings with California, Arizona and Colorado senators and other strategic elected officials and legislative staff, including Senators McCain [R-AZ] and Gardner [R-CO] and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts [R-KS] and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow [D-MI].
During the course of these appointments, the major topics addressed included the western drought relief, farm bill, international trade, a national GMO labeling standard and both comprehensive immigration and H-2A reform.
“The D.C. Board Meeting has a tremendous impact on our ability to move legislation and bring about regulatory reform,” said Western Growers Vice President of Federal Government Affairs Dennis Nuxoll. “Seeing the farmers who grow the bulk of our nation’s fresh produce in person leaves a lasting impression on our elected representatives and administrative officials and helps humanize our industry.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, the Board will continue to meet with Congressional representatives, agency officials and partner organizations to advance the interests of Western Growers’ members.