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United Fresh's Center For Global Produce Sustainability Forms Advisory Board

United Fresh's Center For Global Produce Sustainability Forms Advisory Board
by Patrick Delaney, United Fresh Produce Association
Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 10:54AM EST

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United Fresh Foundation Center for Global Produce Sustainability held an organizational meeting of its new Advisory Board as part of the association’s Winter Leadership Meetings in Sonoma, Calif., January 17.

“The new advisory board brings together leaders from each segment of the produce supply chain,” said United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel. “We wanted to make sure that growers are the anchor of the new board, as sustainability for our supply chain begins with stewardship of the land. It’s equally important, however, for our Center to have the advice and counsel of fresh-cut processors, wholesalers, and retail and foodservice partners in this effort. We all have responsibilities and incentives to adopt wise sustainability measures in our own sectors, and we need to work together as a total food chain partnership in meeting our customers’ expectations from the produce suppliers.”

At the first meeting of the Advisory Board, members addressed the mission and goals of the Center and examined progress to date on a number of initiatives. The board endorsed four overall goals for the Center:

• To analyze global issues in sustainability for the agricultural and food industry and how these issues affect the fresh produce supply chain

• To develop a positive vision that defines appropriate and successful produce supply chain sustainability, both for the industry overall and for individual companies

• To ensure that external market-based initiatives on sustainability, potential regulations, and public dialogue support rather than hinder the industry’s ability to deliver high-quality, safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to meet consumers’ needs

• To provide information, resources and tools for industry members to help them enhance sustainability to meet their own goals, and communicate effectively with suppliers, buyers and consumers about sustainability in their operations

In addition, the board had a lengthy discussion about various efforts underway by different groups to define and measure sustainability in agriculture and the fruit and vegetable industry specifically. United Fresh is actively involved in a number of these initiatives, working with many agricultural commodity organizations to advocate for a science-based approach to sustainability.

In providing overall guidance to United’s work with these initiatives, the Advisory Board agreed that in order to be embraced by the fruit and vegetable sector, any standards or metrics for sustainability must:

• Be based on sound science, not ideology

• Not substitute stakeholder opinion for government-approved legal standards

• Be consistent with conventional agriculture and today’s produce supply chain

• Be practical and cost-effective to implement

• Protect confidential information

• Be voluntary for participants

United Fresh Senior Vice President for Public Policy Robert Guenther participated this past week as a member of the Coordinating Council of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC), an initiative bringing together fruit and vegetable organizations, environmental organizations and companies throughout the produce supply chain to work on common ways to define and measure sustainability.

“We will continue to work with other partners in SISC to seek common ground on ways to measure sustainability in our industry,” Guenther said. “These are not easy issues, but to the degree possible, it’s important to reach common expectations on what is important when it comes to sustainability and how to measure performance. We believe SISC can be a tool for growers and others in the supply chain to measure and benchmark their own energy use, waste generation and disposal, water use, and similar metrics that can both save money and reduce environmental impact.”

The Advisory Board also discussed the role of consumer and customer expectations for sustainability, including potential misperceptions. A large majority of fruit and vegetable farms today remain family businesses, often sustained for multiple generations through their long-standing commitment to sustainability.

“The board discussed how farms located in a climate with ideal growing conditions can often use less energy, water, and other inputs per unit of production than smaller, local farms, even with greater transportation impact,” Stenzel said. “It’s important for the public to understand that sustainability is not determined by geography or size but by the stewardship of the operation.”

The next meeting of the Advisory Board will take place concurrently with the United Fresh 2011 convention in New Orleans, May 2-5. A complete list of Advisory Board members is available by contacting Patrick Delaney, United Fresh communications manager at 202-303-3400, ext. 417, or pdelaney@unitedfresh.org.

The Board also agreed to consider expanding its membership if additional members of the industry come forward with a strong interest and expertise to help achieve the Center’s goals. Those interested in serving may contact Victoria Backer, United Fresh senior vice president for member services and the Foundation at 202-303-3400, ext. 408, or vbacker@unitedfresh.org.

The Center for Global Produce Sustainability is one of four centers within the United Fresh Produce Association Foundation and was created in 2009 with foundational support from Bayer CropScience. Other Foundation centers include the Center for Nutrition and Health, Center for Food Safety and Quality, and Center for Leadership Excellence.

Source: United Fresh Produce Association