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Domestic Judges Won’t Tamper With COOL: But Keeping It Could be Costly

Another day, another ruling on so-called Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) of muscle cuts of meat.

The latest is a decision by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit not to rehear the dispute. That means, unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue, that domestic courts are fine with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that require producers to keep track and report on the label on the birthplace, residence, and location at passing for each hunk of meat sold at retail in the U.S. regardless of the burden or cost.

However, the World Trade Organization sees those very provisions as illegal non-tariff barriers to trade. Canada and Mexico recently won another round of WTO rulings that many manufacturers and agricultural interests fear will allow those countries to impose crippling retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.

It means instead of just being a regulatory cost falling on the meat industry and its consumers, COOL could result in Canada and Mexico being able to collect billions of dollars of extra tariffs or taxes from a wide variety of U.S. industries.

WTO may impose such tariffs to punish countries that violate their trade agreements.

That’s caused a broad coalition of the U.S. manufacturing and agricultural industry to begin lobbying Congress for changes that to make COOL WTO compliant before early next year when those tariffs might become a reality.

Original supporters of COOL, including the Farm Bureau and United Stockgrowers of America, are buoyed by its support from domestic judges and oppose changes to accommodate WTO.

Food Safety News

Georgia peach growers keeping close eye on crop

TGF-FruitImageGeorgia peach growers keeping close eye on cropCold weather, including overnight freezes in north Georgia this week, has the potential to damage the peach crop, but at least one farm in our area seems to be doing fine.

Drew Echols with Jaemor Farms in Lula said the windy night Tuesday actually did their peaches a favour. “When those winds tapered off, we ran our wind machines and picked up a couple of degrees. Our crops this (Wednesday) morning looked pretty darn good.”

Echols said the temperatures were supposed to be a bit warmer Thursday morning, but there’s no strong wind in the forecast. Despite a few dead peaches, the 70-acre Lula-area crop was still holding strong.

Echols said peaches in South Georgia are facing a harder time. He spoke with another farmer in Fort Valley Wednesday. “There’s a little bit of damage, and the reason that they have some damage is because those peaches are already out of the shucks, what we call the shuck. It’s basically just a little naked peach sitting there,” Echols said.

As for the peaches at Jaemor, they still have some shucks and flowers, giving them more protection, according to Echols, but he still hopes for warmer overnights soon.


Publication date: 3/28/2014

Chilean Fresh Fruit Association keeping North American importers abreast of movements and volumes

In mid-January, Karen Brux, the North America managing director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association and the marketing director for the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, headquartered in San Carlos, CA, provided The Produce News with import data on Chilean produce exports for the current season, adding comments on products that have notable volume changes.

Beginning with blueberries, Brux said that 22,516 tons had been exported from Chile this year, compared to 34,000 during the same time period last year.CFFAaconex Puah FAA5254In Cherries, Chile exported 8,356 tons so far this season compared to 7,998 last year.

“Our original forecast for blueberries was that exports would be up by seven percent,” she said. “But blueberry shipments are still behind last year. This is due primarily to fumigation requirements put in place after multiple detections of the European Grapevine Moth.”

She noted that in late December, it was announced that fumigation would be required in Chile prior to shipping, but in early January that was amended. Fumigation is now taking place upon arrival into the United States, and the volume of blueberries departing Chile for the United States is starting to increase.

In Cherries, Chile exported 8,356 tons so far this season compared to 7,998 last year. Plum exports are exactly in line with last year’s figures.

Other stone fruits have not fared as well, however. Chile had exported 2,252 tons of peaches so far this season compared to 6,425 tons last year. Nectarines are down from 5,411 tons a year ago compared to 2,828 tons this year. Apricots have also felt a drop this year to 232 tons compared to 822 during the same period last year.

“An unusual succession of frosts hit Chile in September 2013, with stone fruit and kiwifruit suffering the most,” said Brux. “As of mid-January, estimates projected industry-wide losses of 64 percent for Chilean peaches, 59 percent for nectarines and 63 percent for plums. The Chilean Kiwifruit Committee has reported losses of 60 percent.”

She added that the latest obstacle is the port strike at San Antonio. According to a Jan. 27 article by Michele Labrut  in Seatrade Global, over a dozen ports, including San Antonio — Chile’s largest port in the central region of the country — and Iquique, Tocopilla, Huasco, Caldera and Chañaral in the north have all shut down in a protest that has hurt fruit, copper and other exports estimated so far to be $ 400 million in value.

The first strike broke out in December in the northern port Angamos after operator Ultraport declined to include non-union workers in salary talks. The terminal was completely paralyzed for 16 days.

In late January, workers at five northern ports halted their activities to support Angamos workers. Now southern port workers have walked out in support of a strike at northern terminals for benefits and union rights.

It’s a hard hit for perishable goods from Chile because of the short shelf life.

Despite its current challenges, few would argue but that Chile continues to stand at the top of the professional ladder when it comes to producing high-quality fruits and vegetables and knowing how to properly export them. The country’s counter-seasonal harvest of produce complements U.S. production and provides North Americans with year-round access to a wide variety of fresh fruit.

Chile is also a world leader in safe agricultural and environmental practices. From growing, harvesting and packing practices, to worker safety and environmental stewardship, safety is paramount to Chilean producers, to the point that fruit exports meet or exceed the strictest North American, European and Asian standards.

The Chilean fresh fruit industry has developed a program called Good Practices for sustainability and a set of vigorous guidelines for protecting air, water and soil resources. State-of-the-art drip irrigation systems and access to real-time climate data minimize water consumption.

Use of pesticides is strictly regulated according to international guidelines, and Chile ranks among the top ten countries in the world with the most Good Agricultural Practices certificates according to both United Nations and U.S. standards.

GAP standards were established to ensure that food meets global standards for safety, nutrition and sustainability.

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Chilean Citrus Committee focuses on keeping U.S. customers informed and in good supply

The Chilean Citrus industry, via the Chilean Citrus Committee and “Fruits from Chile” wants to provide as much useful information to its U.S. customers about the numerous steps in the supply chain — from growers to exporters to importers and finally to retailers — to keep everyone abreast of the volumes being shipped during any given season and forecasts for that overall season. One way the organizations do that is through videos posted on YouTube and on its “Fruits from Chile” website.

In July 2013, Juan Enrique Ortuzar, chairman of the Chilean Citrus Committee, commentated “Introducing Chilean Citrus!” In it he said that the Chilean industry felt that there would be a slight overall increase in Chilean citrus being exported to the U.S., although some growers in the northern regions of the country had suffered some damage and losses from a drought that was affecting the region.

“Growers were very cautious in their use of the water they had,” said Ortuzar. “Still, overall our lemon volumes were similar to the year before, and late mandarins enjoyed an increase.”

The challenge Chilean citrus growers continually face is living up to its commitment to always provide consistently good volumes and high-quality citrus to the U.S. market, which is the country’s primary market for Mandarins, clementines and lemons.

Ortuzar explained that early harvests start in late April in the northern regions of Chile. It also has a central region, which gives the country a nice, long season to supply the U.S. with high-quality citrus.

“We harvest fruits from the north through late July and into August,” he said. “Navel oranges start in the northern areas by late May, and soon after, in early to mid-June, we start in the central zone of Chile. This program runs into September.”

Late Mandarins from Chile are harvested from August through late September. Ortuzar said ocean shipments to the U.S. are a short trip, and so fruit can be from the tree to consumers’ tables in two to three weeks.

“A harvest generally takes about two weeks in a typical normal grove,” he explained. “Pickers usually pick about 1,000 kilos of fruit per day, meaning he’ll pick from many trees. Most citrus varieties are ready to be packed the minute they are picked. And most groves are picked twice. The first time only the mature fruit is taken. Pickers wait for about two weeks for the remainder of the fruit to ripen, and then they do picking the tree completely of fruit.”

The quality of the citrus that Chile grows and ships is very important to its industry. Ortuzar said that freshness in a piece of citrus is reflected in its deep orange color. The taste is fresh and sweet, but it also has a little acid that provides that refreshing flavor such as one finds in a great Navel orange.

“Different citrus fruits are eaten in different ways,” he said. “Navels are fantastic eaten fresh because they have a nice balance of sweet and tart. Children really like them. We suggest that you cut them into slices resembling a smile, and then smile as you bite into a slice.”

Chilean Mandarins are also excellent pieces of fruit. Chile produces two types: clementines in the early season and Mandarins or W. Murcotts in mid- and late seasons. It supplies the U.S. market from mid-May through early November, which does not compete with domestic citrus production.

“These fruits are really wonderful,” said Ortuzar. “They are small, convenient, easy to peel, easy to eat, juicy — but not so that they run all over when you peel them — and they are very sweet. This is why we are seeing so much growth in this category today.”

Although everyone loves the Mandarin category, Ortuzar feels they are the perfect fruit for kids.

“They pack well in lunch boxes and in backpacks to be carried to sports practice and other outings,” he said. “They are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are really the perfect piece of fruit.”

Chile has another great advantage in its citrus production. It does not have fruit flies or other difficult-to-manage pests or diseases, and so the category does not require cold sterilization or treatment that can compromise the quality of other fresh fruits.

“Reliability of consistent shipments is therefore outstanding,” said Ortuzar. “Chile is in a very good position to live up to its promise to U.S. consumers to bring sweet, juicy and reliable fruit to them during the summer months.”

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Ready Pac keeping up with consumer label perceptions

The word ‘transparency’ has undergone a substantial transformation in recent years. Previously associated with being one-dimensional or thinly veiled, possessing transparency now has more positive connotations.

SpinachDijonSaladThe shift is, in part, due to recent consumer trends demanding brands to revise product labels in order to expose ingredients and production processes perceived as misleading or harmful to our health.But as regulations continue to change and marketers take advantage of key industry buzz words, healthy brands are facing new challenges as it becomes increasingly unclear whether or not this trend has helped or hindered consumers’ outlook on product safety and health claims.

As a packaged salad and fresh produce producer, Ready Pac Foods Inc. is focused on healthy meal options and has paid close attention to this shift in consumer awareness.

“It’s definitely a double-edged sword,”  Tristan Simpson, senior director of marketing and corporate communications at Ready Pac, said in a press release. “In some cases, you have consumers who simply don’t have the knowledge base and are confused by the misdirection of all of these claims, so we want to be careful not to overwhelm them. On the other end of the spectrum, you see consumers who believe themselves to be nutritional gurus and have quickly become skeptical — critical even — of any new ‘superfood’ or improved recipe claims. But rather than throwing their hands up in defeat, Ready Pac believes it’s all about consistency and providing natural, healthy options in the most straight-forward way possible.”

Although results have been mixed, the tendency has been to suggest that too little information is worse than too much. In terms of the most necessary and straight-forward product claims that factor into consumers’ purchase decisions, analyses through Symphony IRI found that sales of products with “better for you” and “dietary restriction” claims led among five macro health claim categories, accounting for 36 percent and 33 percent of total health claim sales, respectively.

Ready Pac Bistro Bowl Salads are an example of both clean health and product transparency. These on-the-go, chef-inspired bowl salads have fewer than 300 calories and include fresh, nutritious ingredients in every recipe. Ready Pac Bistro Bowls are produced in facilities that are USDA certified with daily USDA oversight and quality-assurance checks present from inception all the way to the produce aisles, and all finished products are identified by product expiration date and a designated lot number for complete traceability.

“Knowledge is power,” Simpson said. “We are committed to providing all the clarity we can so our consumers know that every Ready Pac product they buy provides them with the clean, straight-forward nutrition they have come to expect from us. It’s as simple as that.”

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