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A Message from Tom Stenzel: A New Administration, A New Congress, A New Opportunity

Jan 11, 2021

A New Administration, A New Congress, A New Opportunity

Dear produce industry members,

Before I begin this message, I must say a word about the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol last week, sadly instigated by the President and far too many elected leaders. This is not the America we believe in, whether you live in the United States or other countries. I received many texts last Wednesday from produce friends around the world, all sharing the same sadness I felt watching this unfold. I can only hope that our society has been awakened to the danger of such extreme actions and rhetoric that can stoke emotions far beyond peaceful protest to become a riotous mob. May we all be better in the future.

Now, on to a more positive subject – looking ahead to 2021.

Our team at United Fresh is looking forward with confidence to building a better business climate for our industry through legislative, regulatory and advocacy programs this year. While our members include Republicans, Democrats and Independents, our mission is to work with all of our leaders in power to represent you all.

Already, we have had meetings with a number of members of President-elect Biden’s transition team, including the following:

  • Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Rural Engagement Director Will McEntee, and the President-elect’s overall Transition Team for USDA
  • NC Secretary of Environment Quality Michael Regan, Nominee for EPA Administrator
  • The President-elect’s COVID-19 Transition Team
  • The President-elect’s Department of Labor Transition Team
  • The President-elect’s White House Head of Public Liaison, Rep. Cedric Richmond

Having now served United Fresh through seven Presidential transitions, I can tell you that these meetings have been open, honest and productive in discussing the President-elect’s priorities and our industry’s needs. From accelerated vaccines for our workers, to immigration reform in the Congress, we are carrying these messages to highest levels of the incoming Administration.

Today, we also launched our new Meet & Greet series with new Members of Congress. There are 69 new Members of Congress this session, and we want every one of them to hear from our members to better understand the fresh fruit and vegetable industry. You can see the schedule and sign up here for our Zoom meetings.

Let me say a word about our priorities for the year ahead.

First, there will be another COVID-19 relief bill, and we are working hard to support our industry’s needs in this effort. We’re advocating for reimbursement of employers’ costs for steps to keep employees safe, including Personal Protection Equipment, workplace and housing modifications and more. This effort includes accelerated vaccinations for our workers, direct financial support for agriculture and the restaurant/hospitality sector, and sound liability protection for companies that are trying to follow CDC guidance.

Second, we finally have a real chance for immigration reform that creates a legal, stable and future workforce for agriculture. President-elect Biden and many in Congress are committed to immigration reform, and we have the best chance in years to ensure that agriculture reform is part of that package. I was invited to speak about this on a panel as part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s State of American Business policy session this coming Thursday at 12:00 EST, so I hope you’ll tune in.

Finally, we have new opportunities to fundamentally improve federal nutrition programs to bring more fruits and vegetables to Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the reality that those at greatest risk of serious illness and even death are those with pre-existing conditions such as obesity, diabetes and other diet-related conditions. Healthy eating isn’t only important in preventing chronic disease; we now know that it helps protect against the worst impact of communicable diseases such as the coronavirus. It is time to put nutrition first in government programs designed to support food-insecure Americans as a simple commitment to public health. We kicked off January 1 with this message in The Washington Post, and we’ll be working to advance the following in 2021:

  • Drive federal feeding programs to truly follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
  • Support government and private sector efforts to achieve the goal of “Half the Plate” to be made up of fruits and vegetables.
  • Make permanent a program like Farmers to Families food boxes, delivering healthy fresh foods to food banks and other community non-profits that appeal to their constituents, as well as funding for adequate refrigeration and storage.
  • Ensure that schools have the financial resources, physical capability and leadership commitment to serve healthy fresh foods to children whether in meals, snacks, after-school or summer feeding programs.

Of course there are many other issues we’ll be addressing through 2021 – food safety, traceability, infrastructure and transportation, international trade, global regulation of crop protection tools, and more.

The United Nations has designated 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables. Rest assured that we will be front and center, advocating for your interests domestically and on a global basis.

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