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Chile pepper grower seeks support for improved grades and standards for category

A Florida-based grower-shipper of chile peppers is lobbying the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Division to establish a USDA Grade and Delivery standard for the category, positing that it will benefit the industry at large.IMG 3585

Steve Veneziano, vice president of sales and operations for Oakes Farms, based in Immokalee, FL, said the company grades its own chile peppers as everyone else does Bell peppers, with grades of Fancy, No. 1 and No. 2 quality. He believes that if all shippers followed similar guidelines, the chile pepper category would benefit.

“With no grade contract established, the chile pepper category is fairly stagnant because they don’t have the proper sell-through, they have a lot of shrink, and produce managers don’t want to merchandise them because it’s a high-shrink category,” he said. “And especially during transitional times, some shippers mix No. 2s and poor-quality peppers in the box and they get away with it. Having a grade contract would eliminate that and help the entire industry. The chile pepper category has evolved tremendously over the past five years, and this is what it needs to continue moving forward.”

Veneziano said he recently contacted Jeffrey Davis, business development specialist with the USDA’s specialty crop program, who confirmed that grades and standards currently exist only for sweet peppers, and was told he would need to drum up support from the industry to move forward with his petition.

John Guerra, head of Eastern vegetable sales for S. Katzman Produce in the Bronx, NY, said he is in “100 percent in support of the petition.”

Guerra said the lack of quality standards for various hot peppers has really affected what the consumer thinks a hot pepper or varietal pepper should look like because there is very little restriction.

“Particularly from a terminal market point of view, on a tightly allocated market, everything goes into a box without any consideration on quality or grading, and you pass this along to a consumer who is expecting a certain quality, and it is frustrating,” said Guerra. “We went through a winter of some very unusual weather patterns in Florida, which created some limited availability. While many other grower-shippers were putting anything and everything into a box, Steve was separating them and giving us differentiated product. I feel very lucky that we had Oakes in our portfolio. It’s all about integrity, and Oakes is upholding something that isn’t being followed by all of the industry.”

Guerra said he would be interested in petitioning USDA in support of this movement.

Alan Goldberg, owner of A&B Tropical Produce in Miami, is another proponent of the concept, stating it is “long overdue” to have grading standards for the chile pepper industry.

“When issues come up, there needs to be something solid that people can rely on,” said Goldberg. “The chile pepper category is a growing category and the industry needs this. Really, every item should have a grade standard.”

Asked what benefit the grading standards would bring to the chile pepper industry, Goldberg said, “I think it will create confidence all across the board with both buyers and sellers, who will feel better that there is some protection down the line when it comes to settling disputes. It will limit the grey area. To me, anyone not in favor of implementing grade standards is unscrupulous. Why wouldn’t you want law and order?”

Goldberg said that he, too, is planning to contact USDA in support of this initiative. “I’ll do whatever I can to help promote this situation,” he said.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

USDA’s new school snack standards look to boost healthy offerings

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its new Smart Snacks in School standards that seek to improve the nutritional quality of foods and beverages offered for sale to students in schools.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars will support their great efforts.”

The new nutrition standards, which must be implemented by July 1, 2014, apply to all foods and beverages sold a la carte, in school vending machines, stores and snack bars.

The new standards will increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products for sale to students, and reduce the amount of calories, fat, sodium and sugar.

“Increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks in schools will go a long way towards creating a healthy school food environment and improving nutrition for 32 million school children,” Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a press release. “In addition, this will drive opportunities for increased produce sales to schools, especially for fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in convenient single servings.”

Designed to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines, foods available for sale will now complement healthier school meals and help create healthier school food environments for U.S. school children, according to the United Fresh press release.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Ground Beef in School Lunches Meets Stricter Microbial Standards

According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report published last week, the ground beef supplied to school lunches contains “significantly less” Salmonella contamination than products sold on the commercial market.

USDA’s Economic Research Service examined the impact of food-safety standards imposed by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) on suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

Because ground beef is a staple of school menus and has suffered a number of product recalls in recent years, AMS pays particular attention to the food safety of ground beef. The report addresses the need for information regarding economic incentives for suppliers to improve the food safety of their products.

The researchers found that the food-safety performance of active suppliers exceeded the performance of inactive ones (meaning they sought approval to supply the NSLP but did not bid for contracts) and commercial market suppliers, “suggesting that AMS standards encourage superior food safety performance.”

AMS and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which regulates ground beef sold in general commerce, have different tolerance levels for microbial testing and testing frequency and for certain slaughter operation procedures.

In order to adhere to AMS’ strict tolerances for Salmonella and other potentially harmful pathogens, ground beef suppliers have to make costly investments in sanitation and cleaning. The companies recoup the costs through higher bid prices, but they still have to bid low enough to be selected by AMS.

The research found that inactive AMS suppliers exceeded FSIS’ tolerance for Salmonella, but that they were worse than all other suppliers on tests that were one-half to one-tenth the FSIS tolerance.

Some evidence suggests that AMS-approved suppliers consider their food-safety performance before bidding on contracts to supply the NSLP. Those suppliers who may not be confident that they would meet AMS food-safety standards and don’t bid then sell their ground beef in the commercial market to other buyers.

Food Safety News

Stenzel says new poll shows it’s not time to roll back school nutrition standards

WASHINGTON — United Fresh Produce Association Chief Executive Tom Stenzel said a new poll that shows parents overwhelmingly support new school meal standards that require more fruits and vegetables shows it’s not time to roll back the standards in the nation’s schools.

Some 500 produce representatives are in Washington, DC, this week for the group’s annual Washington Conference, and school nutrition standards are on the agenda during a session, “Why fighting for Healthier School Meals is So Important.”

The new poll, released Sept. 8 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association found 91 percent of parents support requiring schools to include a serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal.

The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snacks” standards, which took effect July 1, represent the first major update to national guidelines for school snack foods and beverages in more than 30 years. To meet the standards, a snack food must be a fruit, a vegetable, protein, dairy or whole grain; it must have fewer than 200 calories; and it must be low in fat, sodium and sugar.

Similar nutrition standards for school breakfasts and lunches already are in effect, and the USDA said they’re being met by some 90 percent of school districts.

Congressional Republicans, however, have attacked the new standards and are advocating for school districts to opt out of the nutrition overhaul, at least temporarily.

“The new national poll underscores the strong support by parents for the new healthier school meal standards that require more fresh fruits and vegetables,” Stenzel said. “We put our kids’ health first and Congress must continue to do the same. There can be no going back to water down the modest requirement that children take at least one-half cup of fruit or vegetable at breakfast and lunch.”

Stenzel added, “Instead, we should be looking for ways to reach our public health goal of half the plate being fruits and vegetables, not just half a cup.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

Stenzel says new poll shows it’s not time to roll back school nutrition standards

WASHINGTON — United Fresh Produce Association Chief Executive Tom Stenzel said a new poll that shows parents overwhelmingly support new school meal standards that require more fruits and vegetables shows it’s not time to roll back the standards in the nation’s schools.

Some 500 produce representatives are in Washington, DC, this week for the group’s annual Washington Conference, and school nutrition standards are on the agenda during a session, “Why fighting for Healthier School Meals is So Important.”

The new poll, released Sept. 8 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association found 91 percent of parents support requiring schools to include a serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal.

The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Smart Snacks” standards, which took effect July 1, represent the first major update to national guidelines for school snack foods and beverages in more than 30 years. To meet the standards, a snack food must be a fruit, a vegetable, protein, dairy or whole grain; it must have fewer than 200 calories; and it must be low in fat, sodium and sugar.

Similar nutrition standards for school breakfasts and lunches already are in effect, and the USDA said they’re being met by some 90 percent of school districts.

Congressional Republicans, however, have attacked the new standards and are advocating for school districts to opt out of the nutrition overhaul, at least temporarily.

“The new national poll underscores the strong support by parents for the new healthier school meal standards that require more fresh fruits and vegetables,” Stenzel said. “We put our kids’ health first and Congress must continue to do the same. There can be no going back to water down the modest requirement that children take at least one-half cup of fruit or vegetable at breakfast and lunch.”

Stenzel added, “Instead, we should be looking for ways to reach our public health goal of half the plate being fruits and vegetables, not just half a cup.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

“We can overcome and succeed as long as we keep our standards as high as our heels.”

Lynette Ntuli – PMA Fresh Connections Southern Africa
“We can overcome and succeed as long as we keep our standards as high as our heels.”

Last week’s PMA Fresh Connections Southern Africa, enjoyed the participation of Lynette Ntuli, founding director and executive lead consultant at the property asset and infrastructure development solutions firm Innate Investment Solutions. Lynette spoke at the Woman’s Fresh Perspective Breakfast, held in honour of Woman’s Week.

Lynette was the first South African woman to become GM of a super-regional shopping centre; she is CEO of the Durban Business Enhancement Initiative and founding director and chairman of IgniteSA.com. Lynette is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and Founding Curator of a South African hub.

“We appreciate being able to come together and discuss an industry that is so critical to the growth of economies, not just in this country, but globally. It is important for us to connect, which is why we are all here at this Fresh Summit,” affirms Lynette.

Lynette assures that the event takes place at an important time for South Africa, not only because “it falls within woman’s month, but also because South Africa’s debate on land reform is firmly back on the table and agriculture and the future of food security are very much in the mind of political leaders around the world.”

She explains that the conflict on the ownership of land in South Africa is very much historically linked to what comes out of that land. “South Africa’s wealth has been built on gold and minerals, but today, food security has risen to the top of our national agendas, meaning that land continues to be important.”

South Africa’s president stated that agriculture has become a key economic driver for employment and prosperity, and that the target is to create one million jobs in the sector by 2030. According to Lynette, “20 years ago, we had about 120,000 commercial farmers in South Africa; in 2014, this figure has dropped to 57,000. Additionally, in the last few years nearly half a million people have lost their jobs.”
It has been estimated that 73% of the land in South Africa is not used correctly by the agricultural sector, “and there in itself lies a significant opportunity for the acceleration of our economy and for that of the communities around that land,” says Lynette.

“Our real opportunity as entrepreneurs lies in the areas where nobody has been before; in the areas where people are waiting for change. As a company, we looked at how we could combine property, ethics, infrastructure, retail and many competing marketing forces and factors to create turn-key solutions that would make a difference and have an impact in our country.”

Regarding the participation of women in the sector, Lynette explains that “incidentally, we have bumped into the agricultural industry quite a lot; we have come across women who have started cooperatives, but have no market access and no knowledge about value chain in this specific sector. Supply management and retail are thus areas we’ve had to be concerned about.”

“I also believe that the opportunity exists for the creation of equal systems that will not only empower and enrich, but also sustain brand new markets and communities in our country. At the core of our business is the unwavering belief that if people know what property, land and infrastructure mean and what they can provide for them, they can tap into economically and socially transformative tools.”

“How then can we cultivate a better value chain? It is up to us, those who are already in service and delivering products, to begin to provide supportive structures and solutions to change lives and ensure that we support the areas of need, not just economically, but within our sector in itself.”

“We, women, who are often responsible for the food security of our families on a daily basis, who often approach agriculture as a way to feed and support a family in a country like South Africa, we are perhaps the most poised to begin to play a very active role in this particular sector.”

“Let us use our pool of resources to start working towards some of the small stuff that we know will turn into big things in the future, because nothing is set in stone and certainly nothing is fixed on the ground. Business needs our prowess and insights, and we can perhaps respond the fastest to most of society’s needs. We can overcome and succeed as long as we keep our standards as high as our heels.”

Publication date: 8/25/2014
Author: Nichola Watson
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

The Lempert Report: Standards in place for gluten free (video)

So basically now, if a food package says it’s gluten free, you can be well assured that it is!

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Supermarket News

House panel votes to allow waivers from new school lunch standards

WASHINGTON — New school lunch regulations implemented during the 2012-13 school year that doubled the amount of fruits and vegetables served every day may be in jeopardy as a House subcommittee voted May 20 to allow schools to apply for waivers from the new requirements.

Attached to the fiscal 2015 spending bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a provision that would grant the Secretary of Agriculture authority to establish a waiver process and allow schools demonstrating an economic hardship to pass on complying with certain nutrition regulations during the 2014-15 school year.

The controversial provision cleared the first hurdle during subcommittee markup and is scheduled for a full committee vote next week. Similar language does not appear in the Senate version.

“I continually hear from my schools in Alabama about the challenges and costs they are facing and their desperation for flexibility and relief so they can operate a program serving healthy foods the kids will eat,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over USDA’s budget, who supports the waivers.

“If your schools are successfully implementing the nutrition standards and operating in the black, they would not qualify for or need a waiver,” Aderholt said at the session. “However, for schools suffering economic hardship and needing more time to implement and adjust to the new standards, this waiver gives them that flexibility schools are asking us to provide.”

The legislative fix was met with fierce opposition from Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) during the subcommittee markup.

Farr called the change in nutrition standards “hard to swallow,” and pointed out that schools could stop serving added fruits and vegetables and keep the federal money. More than 90 percent of schools are having no trouble meeting the new nutrition standards and USDA has pledged to work with the other schools, he said.

“Members of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee who voted to roll back school meal nutrition standards that benefit the health of millions of American children should be embarrassed,” Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement issued after the vote.

USDA also wasted no time reacting to the latest vote on Capitol Hill. Soon after the subcommittee action, USDA announced it would give schools that demonstrate significant challenges in serving whole-grain rich pastas the option to continue serving traditional enriched pasta for up to two more years.

USDA also issued a fact sheet and cited a Harvard study that concluded kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch under the updated standards.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

House panel votes to allow waivers from new school lunch standards

WASHINGTON — New school lunch regulations implemented during the 2012-13 school year that doubled the amount of fruits and vegetables served every day may be in jeopardy as a House subcommittee voted May 20 to allow schools to apply for waivers from the new requirements.

Attached to the fiscal 2015 spending bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a provision that would grant the Secretary of Agriculture authority to establish a waiver process and allow schools demonstrating an economic hardship to pass on complying with certain nutrition regulations during the 2014-15 school year.

The controversial provision cleared the first hurdle during subcommittee markup and is scheduled for a full committee vote next week. Similar language does not appear in the Senate version.

“I continually hear from my schools in Alabama about the challenges and costs they are facing and their desperation for flexibility and relief so they can operate a program serving healthy foods the kids will eat,” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over USDA’s budget, who supports the waivers.

“If your schools are successfully implementing the nutrition standards and operating in the black, they would not qualify for or need a waiver,” Aderholt said at the session. “However, for schools suffering economic hardship and needing more time to implement and adjust to the new standards, this waiver gives them that flexibility schools are asking us to provide.”

The legislative fix was met with fierce opposition from Reps. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) during the subcommittee markup.

Farr called the change in nutrition standards “hard to swallow,” and pointed out that schools could stop serving added fruits and vegetables and keep the federal money. More than 90 percent of schools are having no trouble meeting the new nutrition standards and USDA has pledged to work with the other schools, he said.

“Members of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee who voted to roll back school meal nutrition standards that benefit the health of millions of American children should be embarrassed,” Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement issued after the vote.

USDA also wasted no time reacting to the latest vote on Capitol Hill. Soon after the subcommittee action, USDA announced it would give schools that demonstrate significant challenges in serving whole-grain rich pastas the option to continue serving traditional enriched pasta for up to two more years.

USDA also issued a fact sheet and cited a Harvard study that concluded kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch under the updated standards.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

School Waivers From New Nutrition Standards Could Become Bridge to 2015

New language offered by the House Appropriations Committee would allow schools than can demonstrate economic hardship to obtain a temporary waiver from new nutrition standards for the upcoming 2014-15 school year. In 2015, the standards might undergo revisions.

Language released Monday by the committee said the waiver language was included at the request of local schools represented by the School Nutrition Association (SNA). According to USDA, however, the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act specifically forbids the agency from granting waivers from the new nutrition standards.

Congress is using budget language in an attempt to persuade USDA to grant waivers for the next school year based on economic hardship being created by changes in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

Waivers are not universally popular.

“We are disappointed that the House Agriculture appropriations bill includes a provision that would weaken national nutrition standards for foods served in schools,” says Jessica Donze Black, a nutrition expert with the Pew Charitable Trusts. “While we commend the subcommittee for including grants to fund school equipment needed to serve healthy meals, it is unfortunate that the House would consider letting schools opt out of efforts to improve the health of children served through these programs.

“Promoting the health of the nation’s children must remain the top priority of the National School Lunch Program, just as it is for the vast majority of voters, who support strengthening nutrition standards in schools,” Black added. “We know that strong school nutrition standards are an effective strategy to prevent childhood obesity and the lifelong health problems it can create. We urge the House Appropriations Committee to drop this provision from the bill so that we may continue the progress that so many schools have made.”

SNA, however, said the bill contains language that simply allows schools with six months or more of operating losses to apply for a one-year waiver from compliance with costly meal pattern requirements.

“School Nutrition Association strongly supports establishing a one-year waiver process to provide temporary relief to school meal programs struggling to manage the cost of meeting school meal standards,” SNA President Leah Schmidt said.

“School nutrition professionals have been on the front lines working to improve school menus, offer a wider variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and encouraging students to make healthier choices in the cafeteria. However, since these standards took effect, more than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day, reducing revenue for school meal programs already struggling to manage the increased cost of preparing meals under the new standards,” she added.

Schmidt said a temporary waiver program would prevent more schools from dropping out of the National School Lunch Program entirely before Congress has the opportunity to review the standards as part of its reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act in 2015.

A recent government report showed that one million children and about 500 schools have dropped out of the NSLP since the 2010 law took effect. Most recently, an Illinois school district that took in almost $ 1 million a year from the NSLP decided to drop out over the new standards.

Pew, which lobbied for the 2010 changes, claims that 90 percent of the schools are meeting USDA’s updated nutrition standards for school lunches. U.S. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, counters that by saying: “Being in compliance doesn’t necessarily mean everything is going well.”

Kline told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the new standards most associated with First Lady Michelle Obama are a “very, very big overreach of the federal government.”

Food waste, student flight, and calorie restrictions are often mentioned as problems with the new standards. The need to turn back childhood obesity was the main reason the nutritional changes were made with ample bipartisan support in 2010.

Food Safety News

Critics Say Food Safety Standards Could Be Threatened by U.S./EU Trade Agreement

Some call it the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) agreement. Others call it the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).

Either way, it’s the trade deal currently under negotiation between the U.S. and the European Union (EU) for which the fifth round of talks start next week in Arlington, VA.

While proponents of the agreement say it will grow economies and increase jobs, consumer advocates argue that hasn’t been the case with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Instead, they worry about food safety, environmental, public health and labor standards being undermined as “trade barriers.”

The content of the negotiation talks is not made public, and even members of Congress have only limited access to relevant documents. There are, however, about 600 “corporate advisers” who have been allowed to review and comment on negotiation texts.

Under previous trade negations, such as NAFTA, texts were made available after each round of talks. The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and other consumer advocates are calling for a revival of this precedent.

This lack of access to texts has many people irked, and, as a result of the relative secrecy, the little we do know about T-TIP has come from leaked documents or position statements put out by industry.

One of the goals noted in a leaked EU position paper was for parties to “engage in such cooperation without unnecessary restrictions, including any institutional, statutory or other barriers/ inflexibilities.” It also calls for the creation of a Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) to have oversight in the regulatory systems of the U.S. and the EU.

At a briefing to Congress on Thursday, Gynnie Robnett, Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Effective Government and coordinator of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, said the first goal would place a “high burden of proof on governments to show the necessity of particular regulations,” and she said she thinks of the RCC as an international version of the U.S. government’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

Food Issues As Trade Barriers

Another speaker at the briefing, CFS International Director Debbie Barker, said that “food issues under negotiations provide an … entrée point to really demonstrate to people that trade agreements are really relevant to their lives every day. It affects the food they eat and that they feed their children.”

She went on to say that food issues in T-TIP “are extremely contentious. This is probably the area in T-TIP that has the potential to stop the agreement.”

A CFS bulletin released Wednesday and authored by Barker explains that the proposed agreement is more focused on trade barriers than quotas and tariffs.

“Many analysts believe that a central aim of the negotiations is to dismantle many food safety regulations that corporations view as impediments to trade and profitmaking,” the report states.

It also lists the effects these barriers could have on food issues on each side of the Atlantic. Because the EU uses the precautionary principle as its regulatory foundation, it has more to lose from T-TIP in terms of food and farming issues.

In referring to the principle, the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states: “Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

The precautionary principle “sets the bar higher for safety standards” in Europe, Barker told Food Safety News.

So, according to the CFS report, the EU’s bans on GE crops, meat from livestock treated with non-therapeutic antibiotics and growth hormones, ractopamine, and chemically washed poultry, plus standards for things such as animal welfare, organic equivalency, chemicals and nanotechnology, would all be in jeopardy under T-TIP.

In the U.S., standards for feed ingredients that include ruminant materials known to transmit mad cow disease could be relaxed, the zero-tolerance policy for Listeria and E. coli could be eliminated, GE-labeling initiatives across the U.S. could be threatened if the EU lowers its labeling requirements, “Buy American” policies could be on their way out, and Europe’s milk standards could be recognized as equivalent to U.S. Grade A.

“Yes, we’re concerned about citizen rights and the sovereignty of other countries, but, in effect, that also makes it harder for us in the U.S. then to be rallying or campaigning for higher standards here,” Barker told Food Safety News. “Once something gets set on an international level or in a trade agreement, the domestic regulatory agency can say that would be trade illegal.

“If we lower standards elsewhere, we are also, in effect, inhibiting chances of us raising our standards.”

These barriers to trade have the potential to lead to a situation like the current dispute Canada has with the U.S. regarding country-of-origin labeling.

“When you think of the time, the expense, the energy that our country is having to do in international tribunals to defend what should be domestically led standards — that, in itself, regardless of the outcome — is troubling,” Barker said.

Regulatory Mechanisms

“TTIP is not a conventional trade agreement; it’s a regulatory agreement,” said Baskut Tuncak, an attorney with the environmental health program at the Center for International Environmental Law, during the congressional briefing. “It’s a regulatory agreement that’s designed to prevent differences between the U.S. and EU, including the states of the U.S. and federal government.”

A major concern for advocates is the proposed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in T-TIP that gives foreign investors and corporations the opportunity to challenge sovereign governments on their domestic policies outside of a normal domestic judicial system.

And it’s not just a theoretical fear, they say. During the congressional briefing and in her report, Barker referenced the case of the U.S.-based Ethyl Corporation suing Canada in 1997 for banning a toxic gasoline additive called MMT.

The Canadian government ultimately settled the case, repealed their ban, paid $ 13 million in compensation and issued a public apology.

“It wouldn’t matter if a substance was liquid plutonium destined for a child’s breakfast cereal,” a lawyer for Ethyl said at the time of the settlement. “If the government bans a product and a U.S.-based company loses profits, the company can claim damages under NAFTA.”

Within the U.S. federal system, advocacy groups have ways to contribute concerns about the regulatory system — comment periods, for example — “however, a permanent regulatory council like T-TIP will definitely enhance corporate influence over standard-setting and it will make it much, much more difficult for consumer and other civil society groups to monitor or even know what’s being discussed and to provide immediate input involving the food that we’re all eating,” Barker said.

“Trade agreements should set at least a minimum standard for critical issues such as food safety and then also allow countries to set even higher standards to protect citizens and environments,” she added.

Globalization of Food Systems

Barker’s report also briefly addresses the issues of trade on climate change.

“Given the state of the planet and the urgent need to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions, economic imperatives should aim to bolster local production mainly for local consumption, localize energy sources as much as possible, and root capital primarily in local or regional economies,” the report states.

“T-TIP is part of this global economic trade system in food that just doesn’t make sense on an environmental level, on a nutritional level and on a food security level,” Barker told Food Safety News.

Food Safety News

Natural Grocers sets strict standards for dairy

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage has updated its standards for dairy so that it will only sell products from pasture-based farms that meet other requirements for animal welfare and sustainability.

The retailer’s criteria for dairy suppliers are:

  • Dairy animals must be grazed for a minimum of 120 days.
  • No animal byproducts in feed.
  • No hormones, including Bovine Growth Hormone.
  • No non-therapeutic drugs.
  • No cloned animals.
  • Animals are allowed to exhibit their natural behaviors.
  • Humane treatment.
  • Nutrition needs met.
  • Shelter provided as needed.
  • No GMO alfalfa in feed.

“By only carrying pasture-based dairy we are more transparent, we give our customers peace of mind and also expand the market for dairy farms that want to raise their animals on pasture,” Heather Isely, EVP, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, said in a statement.

Isely said that, in the Denver market, the cost for dairy items that meet its standards might be 10 cents more for a carton of yogurt or 80 cents more for a half gallon of milk.

The retailer created a dairy resource page on its website to educate consumers about its new requirements through articles and videos, like the one below.

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Supermarket News

Natural Grocers sets strict standards for dairy

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage has updated its standards for dairy so that it will only sell products from pasture-based farms that meet other requirements for animal welfare and sustainability.

The retailer’s criteria for dairy suppliers are:

  • Dairy animals must be grazed for a minimum of 120 days.
  • No animal byproducts in feed.
  • No hormones, including Bovine Growth Hormone.
  • No non-therapeutic drugs.
  • No cloned animals.
  • Animals are allowed to exhibit their natural behaviors.
  • Humane treatment.
  • Nutrition needs met.
  • Shelter provided as needed.
  • No GMO alfalfa in feed.

“By only carrying pasture-based dairy we are more transparent, we give our customers peace of mind and also expand the market for dairy farms that want to raise their animals on pasture,” Heather Isely, EVP, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, said in a statement.

Isely said that, in the Denver market, the cost for dairy items that meet its standards might be 10 cents more for a carton of yogurt or 80 cents more for a half gallon of milk.

The retailer created a dairy resource page on its website to educate consumers about its new requirements through articles and videos, like the one below.

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Supermarket News

Survey: Consumers Might Read Organic Label Differently Than Organic Standards Board

The Consumer Reports National Research Center says that “questionable practices” remain in the regulation of the fast-growing organics industry.

It is hoping that new public opinion research released today as the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) begins a four-day meeting in San Antonio will help narrow the divide between what consumers think they are getting and what industry regulation actually delivers.

A representative survey of 1,016 adult U.S. residents, commissioned by Consumer Reports, found that 84 percent buy organic food and 45 percent do so at least once a month. Most think the organic label, which is sometimes called the USDA seal, means that no toxic pesticides were used (81 percent), or that no antibiotics were used (61 percent).

However, Consumer Reports says that, while federal law prohibits synthetic substances in organic agriculture and food processing – including synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, growth hormones and artificial food ingredients – the 15-member NOSB can and does issue exemptions for up to five years at time.

In San Antonio, the NOSB meeting will include deliberations on several material exemptions, including use of the antibiotic streptomycin on apples and pears, synthetic materials for aquaculture (before standards for organic fish have been defined), artificial ingredients (methionine) in poultry feed, and how these exemptions are handled after the five-year permitted-use period has ended.

Consumer Reports has long opposed the proliferation of exemptions and says that their renewed listing does not represent what consumers expect from the organic label.

It says the recent survey underscores this point with seven out of 10 Americans expressing they wanted as few artificial ingredients as possible.

“Despite the fact that the public does not want a host of artificial ingredients in their organic food, some national advisers and decision-makers in the National Organic Program have overtly expressed a desire to grow the exemption list in order to grow the organic market. We believe this violates the public’s trust of what organic means,” says Dr. Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

The survey also found:

  • Organic Produce: The majority of consumers think organic produce should not have pesticides (91 percent of consumers) or antibiotics (86 percent). The NOSB members will vote on ending the exemption for streptomycin on apples and pears, which has been re-listed many times.
  • Organic Fish: Nearly all consumers (92 percent) want at least one federal standard for organic fish. The vast majority of consumers think federal standards should require that: (1) 100-percent organic feed is used, (2) no antibiotics or other drugs are used, and (3) no colors are added. The NOSB is considering aquaculture materials  – despite the absence of standards – at this meeting
  •  Sunset Process: An overwhelming percentage of consumers (84 percent) think the use of artificial ingredients in organic products should be discontinued, if not reviewed, after 5 years; few consumers (15 percent) endorse continued use of the artificial ingredient without review.

In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program changed the review process. Under the new policy, an exempt material could be permitted indefinitely unless a two-thirds majority of the NOSB votes to remove an exempted (synthetic) substance from the list. The new policy allows USDA to relist exemptions for synthetic materials without the recommendation of the independent board and outside of public view, which used to be required.

The original authors of the organic law, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), have urged USDA to reverse this policy change, saying that it “turns the sunset policy of the Organic Foods Production Act on its head” and is “in conflict with both the letter and the intent of the statute.”

The issue of sunset will be raised as part of the public comment portion of the NOSB meeting.

Food Safety News

FDA to set standards for posting recall notices in supermarkets

WASHINGTON — The Food & Drug Administration is asking for information that will assist in requiring grocery store chains to post food recall notices in conspicuous locations.

On Tuesday, the FDA released some questions for stakeholders and consumers as it writes a rule for a little-known requirement of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The FDA can require a responsible party to submit “consumer-friendly” information about a food that is being recalled under the Reportable Food Registry. In turn, the FDA is required to create one-page summaries and post them on its website to alert consumers of a food or feed item that, if consumed, could cause serious injury or death.

Grocery stores with 15 or more physical locations that sold the recalled food must display the FDA’s one-page summary within 24 hours in a conspicuous location and for 14 days. While fresh fruits and vegetables, dietary supplements and infant formula are exempt from the requirement, most foods are not and the provision may affect how other recall postings are handled.

The FDA is also requesting comment on whether the agency should notify consumers in the postings that it does not include all foods.

“There may be potential public health impacts if consumer notifications for reportable foods do not include information on dietary supplements, infant formula, and fruits and vegetables that are raw agricultural commodities, particularly if the public believes that such consumer notifications are meant to encompass all food products regulated by FDA,” the agency said in its pre-rule.

The Food Marketing Institute, which represents retailers, said it prefers flexibility in applying the FSMA requirement about recall postings and that the FDA should take into account different notification methods as to not limit innovation.

Comments on the proposal are due June 9.

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Transitioning to GFSI-Recognized Standards

With all of the inputs, processes and procedures that make up the food supply chain, managing product safety for the end user is an incredibly complex, yet crucial, necessity. Consumers want to trust the food they consume, while retailers and suppliers want to deliver on that commitment through consistently safe products and services.

After a wave of food safety incidents in the 1990s, from product recalls to public health safety crises, positive public opinion of the food industry declined. This left the industry in need of both immediate credibility reinvigoration and improvements in how food safety is addressed on a global scale.

Problems Arise in the Food Supply Chain

During the 1990s, food safety incidents were popping up around the globe. In 1998, citrus pulp contaminated with dioxins was discovered in Brazil. Just a year later in Belgium, animal feed contaminated with dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) affected more than 2,500 poultry and pig farms. Not only are findings like this potentially dangerous to the consumer, they also result in high costs for the entire supply chain. As a result of the animal feed incident, the Belgian economy lost between €1.5–2 million euros.

In an effort to ensure a safe food supply, retailers began requiring multiple audits to ensure compliance with regulations and internal quality requirements. Even a small recall negatively affects brand image and product integrity, making it critical to retailers and suppliers to provide consistent, high-quality products. These multiple audit requirements attempted to create greater checks and balances within the system.

In dealing with multiple internal and external quality and safety requirements, the numerous audits have not only been redundant, but also expensive. Furthermore, as the food supply became more global, there was no efficient means to maintain consistency across borders with varying requirements from region to region.

Solution to Audit Fatigue and Disparity in Requirements

In response to critique and frustration over the inconsistent quality of food products from region to region, as well as the issue of multiple audit requirements, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) was created in 2000. GFSI is an independent, non-profit organization led by major retailers that benchmarks global standards and schemes for the food industry.

This global benchmarking system paved the way for a comparable, global audit approach — something the industry desperately needed.

The goal of this organization is summed up simply, “Once Certified, Accepted Everywhere.” This approach is easier to manage and highly preferable for global companies because it provides the foundation for consistency in manufacturing, safety and audit processes — allowing for streamlined, focused efforts and efficient allocation of dollars.

It is important to note that GFSI does not develop standards or schemes, nor does GFSI provide certification. Producers, manufacturers and distributors who wish to be certified to a GFSI standard are audited by an independent third party that is an approved certifying body of the select standard.

Selecting a GFSI Standard

If a business wants to become certified to a GFSI-recognized standard or scheme, they should consider the following factors: First, what are the certification requirements of your buyer or customer? Second, do the standard’s elements apply to all business aspects of your buyer or customer’s products or processes? For example, if a business involves farming of animals and plants, the SQF GFSI standard may be the right choice. However, if an organization only involves production of food packaging, certifying to the IFSPacSecure scheme may make the most sense. Lastly, it is important that the timing and availability of the certifying body aligns with the locations and timeline each business has established to complete its certification.

Current GFSI certification standards include:

  • SQF – Safe Quality Food
  • BRC – British Retail Consortium
  • FSSC 22000 – Food Safety System Certification 22000
  • IFS – International Featured Standard
  • PrimusGFS
  • GLOBALG.A.P. – Global Good Agricultural Practices
  • CANADA GAP – Canada Good Agricultural Practices
  • IFSPacSecure – Covers Production of Food Packaging (only)

Once the standard has been selected, the certification process begins.

Certification Process

GFSI requires a successful third-party audit and certification to the chosen standard or scheme. This process begins with an application to the accredited certifying body for certification. Next steps typically involve completion of a self-assessment, followed by training and assessment from the certifying body, and, ultimately, a determination of compliance with the standard. All companies undergo re-certification annually.

Selecting a Certifying Body

Just as there are factors to consider when choosing a standard or scheme, there are also factors to consider when selecting a certifying body — the third party that will conduct the audit. These factors include:

  • Global availability for various locations: Does the certifier have the capacity to conduct its business at all of the company’s locations?
  • Calibrated auditors and technical expertise: What is the skill set of the certifiers? Will they conduct a consistent, standardized audit?
  • Capacity and timing to meet certification needs: Does the certifier have accredited auditors available to perform the audit in the requested timeframe? Certification to BRC or SQF generally takes 6-9 months if the facility is well-prepared and the certifying body is available.

Benefits of GFSI-Recognized Schemes

GFSI has driven collaboration and innovative practices for the food supply chain since its formation in 2000. Striving to help simplify the audit process and ensure a safer global food supply, its global benchmarking approach benefits all parties, from the manufacturer to the supplier, retailer and consumer.

Suppliers receive upfront savings from reduced audit costs. A supplier is able to satisfy more customer requirements with a single certification to a GFSI-selected standard, rather than multiple individual retailer audit requirements.

For retailers, the reduction of product recalls delivers immediate savings. Walmart has seen a 31-percent reduction in product recalls, and Cargill benefited from $ 5 million per year in savings due to a reduction in redundant audit costs — with an anticipated $ 15 million per year in savings when fully implemented. Fewer recalls also promotes a positive brand image and instills confidence in brand integrity.

Through the steps covered, companies are able to select the appropriate standard and go through the GFSI certification process in order to eliminate multiple audits, consistently provide a safer product and ensure maximum profits in the future.

Food Safety News

Natural Grocers to tighten product standards

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage will soon be making “a pretty major change” in its standards for products in certain categories, co-president Kemper Isely told analysts in an earnings conference call on Thursday.

Isley did not identify the categories to be affected but said the Lakewood, Colo.-based natural foods retailer would introduce the new standards “in a month or so.” Natural Grocers standards already include selling only organic produce and will not approve items known to contain artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, or partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils.

In other remarks during the call, which reviewed financial results for the first quarter, Isely said consumer interest in the Paleolithic diet had raised raw food sales at its stores.

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Supermarket News

Fresh Insights: Exceptional produce departments require basic operating standards

Did you ever wonder why people shop for produce at your competitor’s store? Is their produce any better than yours? Your competition most likely has comparable product and prices. However, if they have a “great” produce department and yours is just mediocre, where do you think people will shop for their fruits and vegetables?

An exceptional produce department is one of the most decisive reasons customers choose a grocery store to do their regular shopping. Prod-Mgr-helping-a-customerA produce manager assisting a customer. A produce team must have the desire to sell and be in direct contact with customers in order to boost sales in the department.The store with the freshest and most impressive produce department will draw the most shoppers every time. In order to be the main focal point for customers, produce calls for specific operating skills in order to stay above the competition.

Here are some basic operating reminders for an exceptional produce department:

Generate sales
The produce team must have the desire to sell and be in direct contact with customers when on the sales floor. Employees should answer questions and make friendly suggestions for incremental sales.

Sales planning and layouts
Establish plans for advertised items and determine the amounts needed. Decide locations for ad item displays. Follow a regular department plan-o-gram layout. Set up a massive visual entrance display for impulse sales.

Ordering and checking deliveries
Inventory all backroom amounts before writing an actual order. Check inbound deliveries for proper weight, count, quality, condition and temperature. Move sensitive items into the storage cooler immediately and date all cartons. Segregate vegetables and fruit. Remove lids from bananas and tomatoes and cross-stack for ventilation.

Product preparation
Handle all produce with respect. Follow a regular crisping program. Use safe trimming and washing practices. Use proper tools, equipment and packaging material. Follow your company packaging and labeling guidelines. Adhere to all food-handling safety regulations and company policies.

Prevent shrink
Ensure all retails are correct. Check systems for item, code and retail accuracy. Control back-room inventory assets. Don’t stockpile. Watch load levels by avoiding over-piling product on displays. Handle all products carefully to prevent damage. Display bananas one layer only — do not stack bunches.

Workmanship
Whether it’s the backroom or the sales floor, every area should be fresh, clean, neat, organized and appealing — especially displays for customers.

Culling and rotation
Cull the entire department first thing in the morning. Use two totes when culling — one for items to be discarded and one for items to be reworked (retrimmed, repackaged, etc.). Check expiration dates on packages. Rotate displays by removing older product, filling with new and restocking the removed product on top. Use backroom product with oldest dates first.

Scheduling
Produce departments need to be ready for business early. Always consider store hours, deliveries, holidays, days off, vacation periods, time of season, weather and special promotions.

Cleaning and maintenance
Keep fixtures, equipment, tools, and floors clean and sanitized. Check refrigeration cases and cooler temperatures daily. Report equipment failures immediately.

Closing hours
Get ready for the next day by stocking hard goods, such as potatoes, onions, apples and citrus the evening before. Remove sensitive items and place in cooler. Clean and tone up the department before leaving.

Of course, these are only a few of the overall operating standards that determine a well-managed produce department. There is more to just ordering produce and placing it on a display. It takes well thought-out planning, determination, and skilled workmanship to be the best produce operator in the marketplace.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.