Working closely with the government to ensure that the concerns and challenges faced by the produce industry are taken into account in legislative decisions is one of the key goals of the United Fresh Produce Association. Robert Guenther, the Association’s Senior Vice President of Public Policy, discusses United Fresh’s top priorities that they will advocate for with the new administration.
“With a new administration coming in, there is always a sense of optimism as well as curiosity regarding how they will interact with the produce industry,” Guenther says. “In my time with United Fresh – 20+ years – we have always had good relationships with administrations on both sides of the political spectrum. So far with this new administration, even before the inauguration, we have had good interaction with them and there have been good discussions, dialogue and openness,” he explains.
Four main areas to address
United Fresh has set four main areas of priority to address with the new administration. Guenther shares: “We want to address the Covid-relief issues, especially in terms of vaccination prioritization for the produce industry’s frontline workers. Additionally, we want to ensure that enough resources continue to be made available for industry members who have been coping with business challenges.”
The second area they are addressing is that of labor reform. “Immigration challenges need to be addressed. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is currently under review. It hadn’t formally entered into the Federal Register, so the new administration has put it on hold and is reviewing it. In the proposal put to Congress by President Biden, there is a clause that addresses legalizing the current work force here in the US, which would affect about 1-2 million workers. We are happy with that but are hoping that there will also be provisions made to improve the future flow of guestworker programs. That is really critical – the long-term future of labor needs stability,” Guenther explains.
The third area to address is that of food safety. “We want to make sure that there will be more collective cooperation between the organizing bodies who work on the investigations: USDA, CDC and FDA. We want to work more in that space and bring about a more stable and confident process when there are outbreaks,” says Guenther.
The last area that United Fresh is prioritizing is that of nutrition. The administration has already begun addressing this area, Guenther says. “One of the first things that the Biden administration announced was changes to the nutrition programs: there will be increased access to those in need. 2020 really highlighted the need for ensuring that the needy have access to healthy and fresh produce, so addressing hunger and health needs through the area of nutrition legislation will be a top priority,” he explains.
The first 100 days of a new administration are important, and these are the areas that United Fresh is looking at in particular. “While the Democrats control congress, it is a slim majority, and it will remain to be seen how exactly they will work through the President’s priorities and our priorities in a bipartisan manner that will lead to important reforms for our industry,” Guenther concludes.