Friday, February 6, 2009

New 10 year projections, a chat with Ksenia and other top headlines

The USDA is to issue new 10-year agricultural projections today (CORRECTION: FEB. 12) at 12 noon eastern. Given the sudden dip in the U.S. and world economies, I would expect to export and import projections trimmed down compared to the year-ago projections. Check for coverage later in the blog and for The Packer.

Check Doug Powell of the Food Safety Network and his post about food safety audits. The Barfblog post is called "Finally, a focus on the "fallacy" of food safety audits." Doug writes:

A week ago I asked, with all the recalled products related to Samonella in peanut paste, what problems did the third-party auditors uncover and what was done about such problems?

A few weeks ago, Chapman and I wrote that,

Third-party audits are an incomplete form of verification that provide a limited view of a producer’s facilities and documentation but do not effectively reduce risk. …At some point, folks will figure out that all these outbreaks of foodborne illness – like Salmonella in peanut butter – happened at places that passed so-called independent audits.

later, Powell continues...

Ten years ago, I told the Ontario greenhouse tomato growers they should have their own in-house food safety expertise to help farmers produce safe product and to market the program, with test results, to buyers and consumers.

They said I was crazy.

TK: Of course, as it turned out the Peanut Corporation of America peanut butter facility had passed its AIB audits with "superior" ratings in recent years. Powell believes that food safety audits are no replacement for strong in-house food safety expertise and commitment. Powell is crazy all right - crazy like a fox.

LATE ADD: Here is a chat with KseniaEvdokimova, Russian market representative, today from Fruit Logistica

1:43 AM me: Ksenia are you online
Ksenia: Yes
the show ended an hour ago
me: Do you have time for a quick "chat" about the show?

8 minutes
11:52 AM Ksenia: I think it was down but just a bit. Second and third day of the show went quite busy and halls were crowded. Show is very important to maintain the contacts and establish new connections, BUT this time not necessarily sign deals.
11:54 AM me: You, of course, are a fresh produce consultant in Russia. Was there a good group from Russia making the trip, and what are they saying about how the national/world economy is affecting their plans?

5 minutes
12:00 PM Ksenia: There were over 10 exhibitors at the show from Russia and many companies from St. Pete, Moscow and regions walking the show. Russian purchasing power will definitely depend on currency exchange rate (over the past months dollar rate rose over 30% to ruble) and oil prices. Currently the imports are down and this situation is predicted to continue throughout the season.
12:02 PM me: I know several U.S. industry leaders attended the show. Who did you see from the U.S? What was the highlight from the week, either at the show or outside the show?
12:07 PM Ksenia: USA Pavilion increased in size this year and hosted industries of fresh produce (apples, pears, grapes, stone fruit, vegetables), nuts, dried fruit and technologies. I guess the main highlight was the feeling of something unpredictable coming up that affected the overall mood - no big parties, phrase "lets see how it develops".
12:08 PM me: Interesting insights. Much to be determined the rest of the year, despite current gloomy news. What was the weather like in Berlin and when do you head back to St. Petersburg?
12:09 PM Ksenia: It is windy, but when wind calms down it is fine (for a Russian). About 5C. I depart tomorrow, but some groups stay till Sunday. There is a lot to see in Berlin. Nice city!

6 minutes
12:17 PM me: Thanks again -- looks like we lost connection.. have a good flight back to Russia
12:20 PM Ksenia: Thank you for a chat. Sorry for talking slow - trade shows are busy-busy (= All the best to everyone who are in the middle of the season

More headlines snatched from the Web:

USDA must serve eaters as well as farmers Washington Post

At Obama's bidding, one of Vilsack's first challenges will be to improve child nutrition and food assistance programs, such as the $6 billion Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which is up for renewal by Congress. Food activists have called for these programs to emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, locally grown when possible, to improve the diet of low-income families.

Vilsack said he supports such efforts: His first official act was the reinstatement of $3.2 million in grant funding for fruit and vegetable farmers that had been rescinded in the final days of the Bush administration. Though the dollar amount was small, Vilsack said it sent a message of his emphasis on nutritious food.

Employers cut nealry 600,000 jobs in January From AP
Unemployment rates rises to 7.6%

FDA lacks access to food safety records
From Reuters

Under law, a company does not have to notify the agency if it discovers salmonella or other contamination. The only time FDA can require information from a plant is if tainted product was shipped from it.

In the case of Peanut Corp. of America, the FDA says the plant found 12 instances of salmonella since 2007, only to retest the product to obtain a negative result before illegally shipping the products for sale.

Fresh Del Monte signs affiliation agreement From Triangle Business Journal. Del Monte signs an exclusive, long term banana production and purchase agreement with Rise n' Shine Biotech Pvt. Ltd., based in India.

Lookout Wal-Mart and Target: Aldi is coming From Marketing Shift:
TK: Maybe Bruce Peterson could lead Aldi's charge?

U.S. farm bill sets bad example for the EU From the Web site: Conservatives in the EU

The new US Farm Bill could mean higher payouts for American farmers, may create a dispute at the World Trade Organisation and will make it much harder to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, Neil Parish MEP, Conservative chairman of the European Parliament's agriculture committee, warned today.

From Parish:

"The US is going in the wrong direction with farm reforms. The Farm Bill will distort trade even more than at present by introducing more partially coupled payments.

"The EU has been too slow to reform it's own agricultural policy but in the past we could always point to both the WTO and to the Americans as signals of a global commitment towards a market based agricultural system. Now I can hardly believe my ears when the French tell me that we should be introducing the American system.

"It is clear that if the Americans begin to move backwards and reintroduce production-based payments, we will have a hard time persuading our European partners to embrace the further reform the CAP needs."

California farmers struggle with impending drought From
Never since the Central Valley Project was authorized in 1935 have California's farmers been so worried about the lack of water. Three years of too little rain combined with pumping restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have created a nightmare scenario: The federal government might soon cut off the state's largest supply of agricultural water — the first time in California history.

Students discover a world of new fruits From Aiken Standard

Untold history of the potato From the UK Independent, book review

Climate change economy to emerge Engineering News

Stores abuse food stamps in Idaho KBOI

Two Idaho convience stores have gotten into trouble for giving customers cash, alcohol, gas, and cigarettes to customers in exchange for food stamps.

Stockton food bank needs fruits/ vegetables
From Recordnet

$19.5 million needed for Cali school lunch program SF Chronicle, an opinion piece
It's distressing that budget cutbacks are being considered in the program, which quite literally costs only pennies per day for each child that receives a meal, of which the state provides fewer than 28 cents per meal. That includes the 6 cents we added so that fresh foods can be included in a meal that traditionally has contained deep-fried foods and too many starches and fat because these are the cheapest foods. The federal government pays the rest - between $2.17 and $2.57 for every free or reduced-price meal served.

Salmonella's outbreak pain spreads From the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Peanut Corp. of America sold 32 truckloads of roasted peanuts and peanut butter to the federal government for a free lunch program for poor children even as the company’s internal tests showed its products were contaminated with salmonella.

Thursday, the Department of Agriculture abruptly suspended its contract with the company, which produced the products at its Blakely, Ga., plant.

FTC, Whole Foods extend settlement talks to March 6

China: worst drought since 1951

Beef labeling battles expected to continue Capital Press - Should checkoff funds be used to promote U.S. beef - the question is dividing the industry.

Understanding organics ABC7 TV - Looking at the question, are organics worth it.

Wal-Mart same store sales up 2.1 % in January From Dealerscope

Peanut supplier banned from federal business

Forecast for big freeze misses mark From

Japan may end policy discouraging rice production

U.S. of federal database for ID checks hits some bumps USA Today
Since 2006, 12 states have started requiring employers to enter new workers' names into the system, which checks immigration databases. About 107,000 of the USA's 7.4 million employers use the system, called E-Verify, up from 11,000 in 2006, the Homeland Security Department says.

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