The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman
Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry
United States Senate
SR-328A
Washington, DC 20510

United Fresh Fruit
& Vegetable Association
___________________________________________
727 North Washington Street Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 836-3410 FAX (703) 836-7745
Website: http://www.uffva.org


Dear Chairman Harkin:

As you are aware, United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (United) has become actively engaged in the development of farm policy legislation over the last year which will lead America's agriculture community into the next century. Consequently, we would like to offer our observations on your farm bill proposal offered this week and look forward to working with the Committee to make improvements to ensure the unique needs of the produce industry are fully addressed.

Traditionally, the produce industry has had a very narrow association with developing Farm Bills in the past, as this process has dealt mostly with those segments of agriculture with traditional farm programs. However, over the past 18 months, the fruit and vegetable industry has become more immersed in farm policy and Farm Bill considerations than ever before. In turn, we have developed and presented to the Senate Agriculture Committee a comprehensive package of farm policy recommendations that we believe should be included in the Senate Farm Bill. We also have shared information on where we support elements of the House passed bill, and where we believe the Senate needs to take further action to balance the Farm Bill's benefits to the 25 percent of U.S. agriculture made up by specialty crops. We believe these recommendations will facilitate improved financial viability of our nation's produce industry while allowing for appropriate flexibility for our producers, and ultimately, promote consumption and demand for our agricultural products.

As we analyze the program and funding priorities contained in the Committee's proposal, we are deeply concerned about the commitment in this proposal to the United States produce industry and its producers. Specifically, we believe several overarching policy initiatives which are contained in this proposal would work against the industry and weaken the economic viability of the produce growers across this country. More importantly, they would also be contrary to the call for strengthening the safety net of agriculture producers as laid out in your Farm Bill legislative objectives. Specifically, the produce industry is deeply concerned with the following provisions of the Committee's proposal as they are currently drafted:

Expansion of Food Stamp funding for the purchase of nutritional supplements - Section 441 of the bill would make it permissible to use food stamp dollars to purchase vitamin/mineral supplements. The fruit and vegetable growers across the country pride themselves to providing Americans with an economical and diverse supply of healthful fruits and vegetables. We and others representing our industry have worked closely with government health officials, academicians, and numerous health and consumer groups to advance the very simple, but important message that Americans should consume more fruits and vegetables for good health.

Consequently, we know of no credible research that supports the substitution of nutritional supplements for healthful foods. Nutritional supplements are an expensive means of delivering nutrients. If supplements are made eligible for purchase with food stamps, a significant number of people dependent upon food stamps may be lured into substituting foods with these expensive products. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the familiar messages espoused by government health officials and other experts to eat a well-rounded diet high in grains, fruits and vegetables, and low in fat.

More importantly, we don't believe these important programs should coerce people into buying one type of food over another for the benefit of a particular commodity or industry. The many programs created to share the abundance produced by our nation's farmers with those most in need of nutritious foods have both improved the diets of many Americans and benefited the agricultural community. We believe the mutual advantage gained through these programs is desirable. Unfortunately, the nutritional supplements provision in today's bill would provide no benefit to the agricultural community and is of unproved value to food stamp recipients. In fact, USDA has now indicated that the inclusion of this type of expansion could result in a $20 million loss of farm receipts for our nations agriculture community. This seems to run contrary to the overall goal of this farm legislation as indicated by the Committee.

As you further address the nutrition title, we urge you to reconsider the inclusion of Section 441 and to assess the potential impact this may have on the agriculture community.

Market Access Program (MAP) - The current Senate proposal would increase MAP funding to $200 million but would be accomplished over the five-year life of the Farm Bill beginning with an increase to $100 million in 2002 and getting to $200 million in 2006.

In the area of international trade, the produce industry will likely benefit from increased funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) that targets key produce export markets. Fruit and vegetable growers in the United States face significant obstacles to the development of export markets for their commodities including excessive subsidies and other tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade. The European Union (EU) and other foreign competitors outspend the United States by some 20 to 1 in export subsidies and market promotion expenditures and in the EU alone total over $15 billion annually. Without targeted assistance for opening and maintaining new markets, the U.S. agricultural industry will continue to unfairly compete in increasingly global marketplace. While less than one-third of the MAP funding is directed to specialty crops, the increase will be of significant benefit for all that currently participate in the program.

The produce industry would urge your consideration and support of $200 million annually for the Market Access Program, which would be consistent with the level approved by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Farm Security Act of 2001.

Agricultural Quarantine and Inspection (AQI) Fees - Section 1104 of the Senate proposal would extend through 2006 Section 917(5) of the FAIR Act which continues the restriction limits on AQI fees subject to annual appropriations.

The liberalization of international trade in agricultural commodities and commerce coupled with global travel has greatly increased the number of pathways for the movement and introduction of foreign, invasive agricultural pests and diseases. Fruit imports increased from 1.35 million metric tons in 1990 to 2.82 million metric tons in 1999, while imports of fresh citrus products alone increased from 101,000 metric tons in 1990 to 348,000 metric tons in 1999. Vegetable imports increased from 1.90 million metric tons in 1990 to 3.73 million metric tons in 1999 and fresh tomato imports have doubled during that period as well. In addition, states such as California and Florida are seeing record numbers of tourists and other visitors arriving each year. Some 330 million visitors entered California and Florida collectively through airports, seaports and highways in 1998, a combined increase of over 4.5 percent over the previous year. Also, new pest pathways such as wood packing materials are emerging.

With economic damages from invasive pests and disease now exceeding $120 billion annually, the fresh produce industry supports expedited and aggressive actions by the federal government in cooperation with the industry and stake holders at the state and local levels to eradicate and protect the domestic market from increasing threat of exotic pests and diseases entering the U.S. through international commercial shipments of products as well as the importation of agricultural contraband by vacationing travelers and commercial smugglers.

The produce industry strongly supports the expiration of Section 917(5) of the FAIR Act allowing for all user fees collected under the Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program to be utilized for AQI.

Mr. Chairman, the produce industry strongly urges the Committee to have an inclusive review of all the policy recommendations presented to the Committee to ensure that future farm policy benefits all sectors of the agriculture community. Specifically, we ask that the Committee work with the fruit and vegetable industry representatives in developing amicable language that specifically targets assistance through traditional and non-traditional commodity programs in the Committee's final proposal. In our examination of the draft proposal, specific areas should be focused on that we believe the draft proposal falls short in addressing specialty crop priorities and we ask the Committee to revisit. The produce industry supports your efforts to write a comprehensive Farm Bill that encompasses the needs of all of agriculture, and urges the Committee to work through a comprehensive and deliberative process to achieve that end. Thank you for taking time to consider this important matter.

Sincerely,


Thomas E. Stenzel
President & CEO

Cc: Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman
  Senate Produce Caucus Members