Every so often I have the opportunity to engage directly with American government. This week it was on behalf of the fruit and vegetable industry as a participant in the Washington Public Policy Conference for the United Fresh Produce Association. As always, our visits to “The Hill” were challenging, enlightening and a bit inspiring.
United Fresh did a good job of briefing us about the issues at hand:
- E-verify and guest worker programs. (Immigrant labor is critical to food production.)
- The need to support nutritional programs that put fresh fruit and produce in schools. (The Super Committee must not cut everything equally. The new Farm Bill must support critical programs.)
- Funding for education on the benefits of fresh produce in a healthy diet. (Same as above.)
- Practical implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. (Action must be science-based and fair.)
Then it was off to state our case to Congress.
Our group of four had the good fortune to meet with two congressmen and a senator among our six visits. We were able to state our case to knowledgeable aides during our other three meetings. As a participant, you like to believe that supporting your position in person makes a difference. One can’t be sure, of course. The legislators and the lobbyists with whom they regularly meet told us it is important for “real” people to show up in D.C.
I can tell you that Senator Chuck Grassley, from Iowa, was knowledgeable about our issues and listened for the short time he had before a CNN interview. Of particular interest to me was our half hour with U.S. Congressman Reid Ribble from my home state of Wisconsin. He has been in office all of nine months and is on the house agriculture committee. He, too, knew about our issues. Overall, his stated position is to worry more about policy that is good for the country versus good for re-election. He gave us the feeling that he was interested in our points and that he heard what we said. He also reiterated how complex the legislative process is, especially in these tight times.
Our three days in D.C. were rounded out by a series of addresses from legislators and a visit to the FDA. In all, it was a bit dizzying in certain ways. You see, we live in a very big country and our food system gets more complicated every day. Keeping food safe, abundant and affordable while meeting the needs of everyone from the most remote farmer to the city-bound consumer is an extremely complex proposition.
I would like to think that engaging with legislators in our general sessions and then getting tired feet from criss-crossing between three buildings surrounding the Capitol plays a part in helping to keep the food system rolling in a sustainable way. What I can say for certain is that United Fresh did a heck of a job organizing more than 500 of us to give it our best shot.