August 21, 1998
Back in 1937, Congress passed the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act, which allowed fruit and vegetable growers to establish programs to collectively battle imports, shore up sales and regulate supplies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approves the programs and enforces compliance through marketing orders that affect prices, supplies and even how foods look and taste.
It is now 1998, and there are 41 fruit, vegetable and specialty crop programs covering such items as Walla Walla onions, Far West spearmint oil and, the latest to be established, tart cherries from Michigan, under a program begun in 1996. Each crop has its own bureaucracy within the USDA's Marketing Service.
What do these programs actually do?
- After more than a year of deliberations and three meetings among growers, there has been considerable progress in approving the markings and dimensions of containers for limes and avocados grown in Florida.
- The Prune Marketing Committee wants to increase the assessment on prune handlers from $1.60 to $2.16 a pound to cover its expenses and administer the prune program in California.
- Vexing questions of whether or not limes are going into the right size containers and if the printing on the boxes is where it should be will be addressed.
- Don't expect action on navel oranges, Valencia oranges and lemons, however, because their marketing programs were terminated in 1994 -- due to the fact that, in the words of one fruit and vegetable deputy administrator, "there was a lot of cheating going on."
Source: Cindy Skrzycki, "USDA Decides Time's Ripe for Container Changes," Washington Post, August 21, 1998.
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