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IB10031: Fruits and Vegetables: Ongoing Issues for CongressBrenda Branaman
Resources, Science, and Industry Division November 13, 2000 CONTENTS
The FY2001 appropriations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and related agencies (P.L. 106-387/H.R. 4461) was signed into law on October 28, 2000. The act addressed agricultural emergency assistance (disasters and market losses) for specific fruits, vegetables, and nursery; contingency funding for APHIS to control crop diseases; funding for the methyl bromide transition program; and funding for the National Organic Program. It also would provide for the establishment of a marketing order for Hass avocados, and would redirect the duties charged foreign countries for dumping to injured farmers, ranchers, and others.
The Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-224/H.R. 2559) became law on June 22, 2000. The law reformed the crop insurance program and approved funds to help fruit and vegetable growers suffering from low market prices and from specific crop diseases.
The FY2000 appropriations for USDA and related agencies (P.L. 106-78/H.R. 1906) was signed into law on October 22, 1999. The act provides $188 million for the President's Food Safety Initiative; $1.2 billion in disaster assistance to farmers who have lost crops from natural disasters, including fruit and vegetable growers; and $200,000 for research on food irradiation. The act also reduced the Department of Labor's approval time for processing farm employers' applications for legal H-2A workers. Proposed amendments on the Market Access Program (MAP) and country-of-origin labeling were defeated.
Subsequently, a supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 3425) was enacted as part of the FY2000 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 106-113) which adds $576 million in emergency USDA assistance to the $8.7 billion provided in P.L. 106-78. Included in the $576 million is $186 million for crop disaster assistance, which when added to the $1.2 billion provided by P.L. 106-78, brings the total available for 1999 crop disaster assistance to $1.38 billion. P.L. 106-113 also instructs the Secretary of Agriculture to consider fruits and vegetables in deciding who gets crop disaster assistance and helps growers of specific produce crops with purchasing crop insurance for the 2001 crop year.
In the 106th Congress several bills have been proposed on issues of concern to the fruit and vegetable industry. The Fruit and Vegetable Safety Act (S. 823) would make mandatory certain practices to ensure the safety of both domestically produced and imported food. This bill and several others would increase border inspections of imported food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, among other provisions.
Other bills proposed in the 106th Congress have provisions to require country-of-origin labeling at the retail level; to counter unfair trading practices, including non-tariff barriers such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures; to ensure that sound science and public discussion are used in decision-making on pesticide registrations; and to reform the agricultural guest worker (H-2A) program.
The FY2001 appropriations for USDA and related agencies (P.L. 106-387/H.R. 4461) was signed into law on October 28, 2000. The act would provide a total of $255 million in emergency assistance to fruit, vegetable, and nursery growers, including $58 million to compensate commercial citrus and lime growers for trees removed to control citrus canker; $19 million to compensate growers for losses resulting from Mexican fruit fly quarantines in California, plum pox virus, Pierce's disease, watermelon sudden wilt disease, and infestations of grasshoppers and Mormon crickets; $100 million for market loss assistance to apple growers; $38 million to apple and potato growers for quality losses from disasters in 1999 and 2000; $20 million for market loss assistance to cranberry producers; and $20 million to growers of tomatoes, pears, peaches, and apricots because of agriculture cooperative losses in California. Other emergency assistance would provide unspecified amounts to compensate growers of nursery stock for losses from Hurricane Irene in 1999 and growers of citrus fruit for losses from a 1998 freeze in California; and production and quality assistance because of disasters in 2000 to growers of irrigated crops, pecans, and Florida nursery crops.
P.L. 106-387 further would provide$33 million for fruit fly exclusion programs under APHIS, $1.5 million for rapid screening of microbial contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables to FDA under the President's Food Safety Initiative, $2.5 million for the methyl bromide transition program, $639,000 for the cost of the National Organic Standards Program only after the promulgation of a final rule, and $4.1 million for the APHIS Contingency Fund. It would provide that duties collected from foreign companies for dumping goods on the U.S. market would be redirected to the injured parties (farmers, ranchers, and others). Finally, the act would provide for the establishment of a national marketing order for Hass avocados.
Fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts earned U.S. farmers $27.9 billion in 1997, about 13% of all U.S. farm cash receipts. In 1997, consumers spent $435.6 billion for food consumed at home. Of that amount, $64.8 billion was spent on fruits and vegetables (fresh and processed), or 15% of the total spent for at home food consumption. Per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables has grown by 23% between 1970 and 1996 for a variety of reasons: changes in dietary habits; better access to local produce; growth in the availability of specialty lettuces; increase in the number of produce items in supermarkets; and the increased number of ethnic, gourmet, and natural foodstores that sell fresh produce. In 1997, per capita U.S. consumption of fruits and vegetables was 753 pounds, of which 307 pounds were fruits and tree nuts, and 446 pounds were vegetables and melons.
U.S. fruit, vegetable, and tree nut exports in 1997 totaled $9 billion, or 16% of the total value of that year's agricultural exports ($57.2 billion). The value of these produce exports exceeded produce imports ($8.4 billion) by $0.6 billion in that year. Major produce exports were almonds, wine, oranges, apples, frozen French fries, orange juice, and grapes. In 1997 the top markets for these exports were Canada ($2.1 billion), Japan ($1.3 billion), and the European Union ($1.3 billion). Because of the Asian financial crisis, exports to some Asian countries decreased in 1998, but exports to Mexico are increasing. Major U.S. fruit imports were bananas, grapes, melons, mangoes, and pineapples; major U.S. vegetable imports were tomatoes, peppers, onions, and cucumbers. The top suppliers of imported fruits and vegetables were Mexico ($2.1 billion), South American countries ($1.5 billion), and Central American countries ($1 billion). Of the total fruits and vegetables (fresh and processed) consumed in 1996 in the United States, 16.4% were imported; 21% of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed that year were imported.
The FY2001 appropriations bill for USDA and related agencies (H.R. 4461) would make provisions affecting the fruit, vegetable, and horticultural industry. The House version passed on July 11, 2000, and the Senate version passed on July 20. The Senate version amended H.R. 4461 by replacing the House text with the text of the original Senate bill, S. 2536. In the area of disaster assistance, the House-passed version would provide $100 million in direct payments to apple growers to compensate for low commodity prices, $15 million for apple and potato quality losses caused by natural disasters, and an unspecified amount to producers of nursery stock for losses caused by Hurricane Irene in October 1999 and to farmers with losses from citrus canker. The Senate-passed version would provide emergency disaster payments for 2000 crop losses (estimated $450 million), and specifically for 1999 specialty crop losses due to natural disasters (estimated $1 billion); it would compensate growers for losses due to Mexican fruit fly, plum pox virus, Pierce's disease, and citrus canker; and it would provide $100 million for apple market losses and$60 million for apple and potato quality losses. In the area of pest control, the Senate version provides no increase in the APHIS Contingency Fund, but the House version provides an additional $6 million to the fund for control of citrus canker, plum pox virus, and Pierce's disease. Concerning funding for the National Organic Program, both bills agree on $639,000 for the implementation of the program, but the House version requires that none of these funds should be spent until a final rule is published on the National Organic Standards.
Attempts were made in two bills to provide supplemental specialty crop assistance for losses due to citrus canker and Pierce's disease, but the language was dropped in conference in each bill. One bill was the House-passed FY2000 supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 3908). The other bill was the FY2001 military construction bill (H.R. 4425) that was signed into law (P.L. 106-246) on July 13, 2000.
The Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-224, H.R. 2559) became law on June 22, 2000. Although its primary purpose was to reform the crop insurance program, it also approved funds to help fruit and vegetable growers. These funds include $200 million to purchase specialty crops that have experienced low prices during the 1998 and 1999 crop years (including apples, black-eyed peas, cherries, citrus, cranberries, onions, melons, peaches, potatoes, and others); $5 million to make loans to apple producers suffering economic loss resulting from low apple prices; $25 million to compensate growers who have lost commodities because of plum pox virus, Pierce's disease, and citrus canker; and $71 million for Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act reserve fund and for licensing costs and inspection services so that fees charged to industry participants do not have to be increased..
For further information, see CRS Report RL30501, Appropriations for FY2001: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Related Agencies.
The FY2000 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 106-113/H.R. 3194), which was signed into law on November 29, 1999, provides for the enactment of H.R. 3425, which makes available $576 million in USDA disaster assistance, primarily in response to agricultural damage caused by Hurricane Floyd in the Southeast. Of that amount $186 million in crop disaster assistance is provided in addition to the $1.2 billion in the agricultural appropriations act (P.L. 106-78), for a total of $1.38 billion. Conferees on P.L. 106-113 stated that they expect the Secretary of Agriculture in deciding on who gets crop loss assistance to take into account quality losses including those related to potato blight and grading losses of fruits and vegetables (including sweet potatoes) due to excessive moisture and related conditions. P.L. 106-113 further assists agricultural producers of citrus fruit, avocados in California, and macadamia nuts in purchasing additional crop insurance coverage for the 2001 crop year, under the $400 million provided for crop insurance in Section 814 of P.L. 106-78. P.L. 106-113 provides $16 million to replace commercial and residential citrus trees in Florida that were removed to control citrus canker in the state.
The President signed the FY2000 agriculture appropriations act (P.L. 106-78/H.R. 1906) into law on October 22, 1999. The conference report was approved by the House on October 1, and by the Senate on October 13. The new law provides $188 million for the President's Food Safety Initiative or $30 million above the FY1999 appropriation for this program. It further provides $1.2 billion in disaster assistance to farmers who have lost crops because of natural disasters in 1999, including Hurricane Floyd. The conference report expects the Secretary of Agriculture to ensure that fruit and vegetable producers receive fair and equitable treatment when allocating disaster assistance. Specifically mentioned are producers of capsicums, valencia oranges, and apples. P.L. 106-78 also requires FDA to propose a rule on the use of irradiation on ready-to-eat meats, poultry, fruits, and vegetables.
For further information, see CRS Report RL30201, Appropriations for FY2000: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Related Agencies.
During the 1990s food-borne illnesses linked to fruits and vegetables increased and became a major concern of officials of both the produce industry and government. GAO reported in April 1999 that 98 outbreaks of produce-related illnesses were identified between 1990 and 1998 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nevertheless, CDC data show that while food-borne illness from fruit and vegetable consumption has been increasing, the number of cases from contaminated produce is still very small compared to the number of meat and poultry-related cases. In September 1999 the CDC estimated that each year 76 million food-borne illnesses occur in the United States, resulting in 5,000 deaths. These cases of food-borne illness, including those caused by the consumption of fruits and vegetables, have resulted in a series of food safety proposals by the Clinton Administration and the introduction of several food safety bills in Congress.
The Administration took three major actions, as part of its Food Safety Initiative, that have affected the produce industry. The first action, the Initiative to Ensure the Safety of Imported and Domestic Fruits and Vegetables, was announced on October 2, 1997. This initiative proposed legislation requiring the FDA to inspect foreign farms and block imports of fruits and vegetable from countries that do not have safety standards equal to those of the United States; proposed increased funds to expand FDA's international food inspection force; directed the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help countries improve their food safety systems to prevent importation of unsafe produce; and directed USDA and HHS to develop guidelines for good agricultural and manufacturing practices. On July 3, 1999, President Clinton took steps to prevent unsafe foods from entering the United States by directing the U.S. Customs Service and the FDA to step up inspections of imported fresh fruits and vegetables, and other foods, and to destroy imported food that poses a serious health risk to U.S. consumers. He also directed the agencies to stamp imported foods that have been denied admission with a stamp that says "Refused U.S." as a means of preventing "port shopping". Port shopping is a practice where some importers attempt to gain entry for their cargo at a second port after it has already been denied admission at a U.S. port.
Secondly, the FDA issued guidelines on October 29, 1998, entitled Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. The guidelines address microbial food safety hazards through good agricultural practices (GAPs) that involve the use of water for cleaning and irrigation, the use of manure as fertilizer, worker sanitation and hygiene in the fields and in processing facilities, and sanitation of vehicles transporting produce. Methods of tracing food at the table back to its source were recommended to limit any future outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The guidelines are voluntary, but some in the industry believe that they will eventually become mandatory.
A third action taken by the Administration was the proposal of new regulations for fruit and vegetable juices. On April 24, 1998, FDA proposed two rules. The first rule stated that a warning label must be applied to apple juice and/or cider that has not undergone pasteurization. The label warns consumers that such juices may contain microbial pathogens and therefore can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems. The final rule was published on September 8, 1998, including the warning requirements for apple juice and cider. Under the new regulation, other unprocessed fruit and vegetable juices, except for citrus juices, must display the warning label beginning November 5, 1998. FDA gave fresh citrus juice manufacturers until July 8, 1999 to comply with the warning label requirements. The warning statement is now required on all juices. The second rule proposed on April 24, 1998, would require that all fruit and vegetable juice processors implement Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) standards to protect the public from food-borne illness. This rule is still under consideration in 2000. (For a detailed explanation of HACCP, see CRS Issue Brief IB98009, Food Safety Issues in the 106th Congress.)
In July 1999 FDA issued two consumer advisories. One advisory warned against drinking unpasteurized orange juice products that are distributed by Sun Orchard because they may be contaminated with Salmonella Muenchen. Another advisory warned all consumers, not just high-risk persons, to avoid eating all varieties of raw sprouts, not just alfalfa sprouts, because numerous outbreaks of salmonellosis have been associated with sprouts since the beginning of the year. Producers of sprouts and unpasteurized orange juice continue to work with FDA to eliminate the microbial contamination caused by these foods.
The FY2000 agriculture appropriations (P.L. 106-78/H.R. 1906) provides FDA with $188 million or an increase of $30 million for FDA's part of the food safety initiative, The conference report also directs FDA to report by March 1, 2000, on the activities it has taken to improve the coordination and cooperation with the U.S. Customs Service on imported foods. The conferees also directed the Secretary of Agriculture and the Commissioner of FDA to develop a plan of action to reassure the public on the safety of the U.S. food supply, to educate Americans on food production, and to identify ongoing or proposed activities to achieve this goal. The FY2001 agricultural appropriations (P.L. 106-387/H.R. 4461) provides $218 million or an increase of $30 million for FDA's part of the food safety initiative. Of that amount $1.5 million is to establish a laboratory to conduct rapid screening for microbial contamination of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In the 106th Congress several bills have been proposed to improve the safety of produce consumed in the United States. Some bills emphasize the need to increase the number of border inspections of imported food (H.R. 830, S. 1123, S. 1126). Others proposed to increase the number of inspections of both imported and domestically produced food, among other provisions (S. 823 and H.R. 1612/S. 908).
For further information, see CRS Issue Brief IB98009, Food Safety Issues in the 106th Congress; CRS Report 98-850, The Safety of Imported Foods: The Federal Role and Issues Before Congress; and CRS Report 98-91, Food Safety Agencies and Authorities: A Primer.
The growing concern for food safety has fueled discussion among U.S. government health and agriculture officials on the use of irradiation for fresh fruits and vegetables. The FDA has already approved irradiation for controlling microorganisms and insects in fruits and vegetables as well as other foods (see CRS Issue Brief IB98009, Food Safety Issues in the 106th Congress). Currently, the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and the FDA are conducting research into the use of irradiation on a wider range of produce, including on raspberries, carrots, and sprouts. This research would be expanded under President Clinton's National Food Safety Initiative; $33 million was proposed for research under the President's Initiative in FY1999, including irradiation research. Although no legislation has been introduced in the 105th and 106th Congress concerning the irradiation of produce, some discussion did take place during the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee's October 1997 Senate hearing on food safety. Irradiation also shows promise as a fumigant to replace methyl bromide when this fumigant is banned in January 2005 (see section on "Methyl Bromide" below). In addition, many in the produce industry favor irradiation because it lengthens the shelf life of foods by killing microbes that cause decay.
Critics of the use of irradiation on produce and other foods contend that irradiation produces carcinogenic substances in food and depletes its nutritional value, both of which would adversely affect human health. Critics further believe the use of radioactive material at irradiation facilities endangers the safety of workers and the public and has potential to contaminate local surface waters. They also worry that the existence of these facilities would increase the amount of radioactive material being transported on the nation's highways which, they argue, would further endanger the public safety. Supporters of irradiation counter that potential carcinogenic substances and depletion of nutrients in irradiated foods are no greater than in foods processed by cooking, freezing, or pasteurization. They further contend that transportation and handling of radioactive material is strictly regulated, and irradiation facilities are constructed to withstand a variety of natural disasters without endangering workers or the surrounding community.
FDA regulations require that irradiated foods be labeled with the radura, the international symbol for irradiation, and the words "treated by irradiation" or "treated with radiation." During 1997 there was debate over the size of the required wording. The food industry favored smaller print because it believed the wording would be seen by consumers as a warning that something is wrong with the product. Consumer groups favor prominent labeling of irradiated foods, some arguing that if the irradiated product is safe, the fact that it is irradiated should not be hidden. The FDA Modernization Act of 1997 (FDAMA, P.L. 105-115) favored the industry position and required that the irradiation disclosure statement should not be more prominent than the declaration of ingredients. Since FDA's former regulations did not specify the size of the irradiation disclosure statement, the FDA on August 17, 1998, published a final rule conforming regulations to the language in FDAMA.
Title VI of the FY2000 agriculture appropriations act (P.L. 106-78) requires FDA to propose a rule on the use of irradiation on ready-to-eat meats and poultry, and on fruits and vegetables after receiving a petition to that effect. Within 12 months of receipt of the petition FDA must issue a final rule on the use of irradiation for this purpose. The conference report on the FY2001 agriculture appropriations (P.L. 106-387/H.R. 4461) noted that FDA had not finalized labeling regulations on food irradiation that were required under the FDA Modernization Act of 1997, and conferees expected a status report by November 15, 2000, with regulations finalized by March 1, 2002.
Sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) trade barriers have become more prominent in recent years as tariffs have been reduced under recent multilateral agreements, such as the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Sanitary barriers relate to meat, poultry, and seafood while phytosanitary barriers relate to fruits and vegetables. Under both the Uruguay Round (SPS Agreement) and NAFTA (Chapter 7), agreements were made to control the use of SPS trade barriers. These agreements recognize that countries have a right to impose measures that protect the health and safety of their populations and agricultural sectors, but such measures must be based on science and risk assessment.
The United States has made some progress removing SPS trade barriers using bilateral negotiations as well as the SPS agreements and the dispute settlement procedures of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since the implementation of the SPS Agreement in 1995 markets have been opened in Chile for California lemons, table grapes, kiwis, oranges, and grapefruit; markets in Japan and Taiwan have been opened for 25 varieties of U.S. tomatoes; markets in Mexico and China have opened for U.S. sweet cherries; and the market in China has opened for U.S. table grapes. Despite these successes, a number of SPS trade barriers remain that are preventing the export of many U.S. fruits and vegetables. An example of remaining SPS trade barriers is China's ban on fresh oranges, lemons, and grapefruit from California and Arizona because of the Mediterranean fruit fly.
Some in the industry advocate more aggressive efforts to eliminate SPS trade barriers. Many in the industry believe funding should be increased for the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service to improve their ability to eliminate phytosanitary barriers to U.S. exports. One organization suggests that a deadline should be established for completing studies that prove the safety of fresh produce exports to foreign countries, because without a deadline a country can stretch negotiations over many years, while denying other countries access to its market. It took over 7 years, for example, for Japan to accept studies showing that California fresh tomatoes posed no phytosanitary threat. Some produce organizations also would like to see more funding for APHIS activities that work to keep foreign plant pests out of the United States by inspecting produce imports and travelers crossing U.S. borders. The industry argues that APHIS activities are increasingly important as the number of produce imports into the United States rises.
In the 106th Congress, the United States Agricultural Trade Act of 1999 (S. 101/H.R. 817) would require the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to identify countries that engage in unfair trade practices, including non-tariff barriers, against U.S. agricultural commodities, livestock, and value-added products. USTR and USDA then could use appropriate U.S. programs to counter the unfair practices. The bill would require the USTR to submit an annual report on the actions taken and the reasons for such actions, including progress made in achieving fair and equitable market access for U.S. agricultural commodities. H.R. 817 would require USDA to identify sanitary and phytosanitary measures negatively affecting agricultural exports, by country and by commodity, and to report on its findings to Congress by July 31, 1999. S. 101 does not have this provision. The United States Agricultural Products Market Access of 1999 (H.R. 450) has provisions similar to these two bills.
For further information, see CRS Report 98-254, Agriculture in the Next Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations; CRS Report 97-952, Agricultural Exports: Technical Barriers to Trade; CRS Report 97-592, The European Union's Ban on Hormone-Treated Meat; CRS Report 94-512, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Safety Standards for Foods in the GATT Uruguay Round Accords; and CRS Report 98-861, U.S.-European Agricultural Trade: Food Safety and Biotechnology Issues.
MAP, a program that helps develop foreign markets for U.S. exports, is especially important to the fruit and vegetable industry. Of the 65 U.S. trade organizations receiving MAP funds in FY2000, 31 (or 48% of the total) were fruit, vegetable, and wine trade groups. These groups received $46.6 million, or 52% of the total $90 million of MAP allocations for that fiscal year. Although funding for MAP is provided through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and not through annual appropriations, attempts are made almost every year in the agricultural appropriations legislation to put limitations or caps on MAP funding. Similar attempts were made in the 106th Congress. H.R. 1470 proposed that MAP should be repealed, and the Chabot Amendment to H.R. 1906 would have prohibited any MAP funding in FY2000. The Chabot Amendment was defeated in the House, but Title VIII, Section 818 to the FY2000 agriculture appropriations act (P.L. 106-78/H.R. 1906) expressed the sense of the Congress that the President should conduct a comprehensive evaluation of all existing export and food aid programs, including the MAP. The Royce Amendment to H.R. 4461, the FY2001 agriculture appropriations bill, proposed that new funding for MAP be eliminated, but the amendment did not pass the House.
Supporters say that the program increases U.S. exports and consequently farm income and promotes thousands of non-farm jobs. They also contend that MAP funding is necessary to counter heavily subsidized foreign competition. Produce groups see MAP as one of the few programs that helps open foreign markets to U.S. produce and food exports and note that the government does not subsidize produce as it does other crops. Opponents of MAP argue that the program is "corporate welfare" because it subsidizes the advertising budgets of some of the largest and wealthiest exporters in the United States (Sunkist Growers, Blue Diamond Nuts, Welch's Foods, Sunsweet, Ocean Spray, and others). They see this as a type of subsidy that is wasteful of taxpayer dollars. In their view, these exporting companies should be paying for their advertising out of their own pockets. In response to this criticism the 1996 farm bill (Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act, P.L. 104-127) specified that MAP funds be given only to small businesses to be used for branded promotions. The Secretary of Agriculture announced that all FY1998 MAP funds for promotion of branded products would be allocated to cooperatives and small U.S. companies. Opponents also question the claim that MAP offsets foreign competitors' export subsidies and that it increases farm income or American jobs.
(For further information, see CRS Report RL30201, Appropriations for FY2000: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Related Agencies; and CRS Issue Brief IB98006, Agricultural Export and Food Aid Programs.)
Under current federal law, imported fresh produce is not required to be labeled for country of origin at the retail level unless the store buys it in ready-to-retail packaging. Federal law does require, however, that at the port where fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries enter the United States, these items should have country of origin labels on their immediate containers and the labels must be in English (Section 304 of the 1930 Tariff Act, 19 U.S.C. 1304). Two states, Florida and Maine, have laws that require retailers to display country-of-origin information for loose produce.
Supporters of country-of-origin labeling for imported produce say that consumers have a right to know the countries where the produce that they purchase is grown. This information will enable consumers to make informed decisions if they have food safety concerns or if they have concerns about labor, pesticide, or environmental practices in specific countries. Supporters further contend that such labeling will assist in the traceback process when foodborne illness outbreaks occur and can protect the domestic produce industry by alleviating consumer fears of a U.S.-grown product when the foodborne illness originated with produce grown in a foreign country. Supporters say that because other countries have country-of-origin labeling laws, a similar U.S. law is needed to level the playing field. They also note that the Florida country-of-origin law has not added large costs for retailers as feared by the domestic retail industry. Food safety is another concern of proponents. They contend that imported produce introduces new pathogens into the United States and that foreign growers use pesticides that are illegal in the United States, use unsafe food handling practices, irrigate their crops with contaminated water, and employ child labor. Another group of supporters takes a more international view and advocates a uniform system of country-of-origin labeling requirements among the various trading nations.
Much of the opposition to country-of-origin labeling comes from domestic retailers who believe such a law would impose new expenses (the cost of signs and labor) that would be passed on to consumers. They also oppose the penalties for violations of the law. Importers believe that a country-of-origin law is protectionist and is an attempt to prevent an increase of produce imports from Mexico and other countries. Importers and some federal officials say that if the United States passes a country-of-origin law, then foreign countries will retaliate with their own country-of-origin labeling requirements. This, they believe, could make U.S. products targets of foreign boycotts. Growers also are concerned about greater regulatory burdens and production costs.
In the 106th Congress several bills have been proposed requiring country-of-origin labeling at the retail level. Three of the bills H.R. 830, H.R. 1346, and S. 860 would require country-of-origin labeling of imported produce only, but the Produce Consumers' Right-to-Know Act (H.R. 1145) would require country-of-origin labeling for both imported and domestically-produced fruits and vegetables. Hearings were held on country-of-origin labeling by the House in April 1999 and by the Senate in May of the same year. During debate on the FY2000 agriculture appropriations act (P.L. 106-78/H.R. 1906), Senator Harkin proposed an amendment that, among other provisions, would require country-of-origin labeling at the retail level for imported meat and fresh and frozen produce, with exemption for food service establishments, and penalties for violations by retailers. The Harkin Amendment was defeated.
For further information see CRS Report 97-508, Country of Origin Labeling for Foods: Current Law and Proposed Changes.
H.R. 609 was proposed in February 1999 to amend the Export Apple and Pear Act, and was signed into law in November (P.L. 106-96). The amending language removed "pears" from the definition and all other references from the 1933 act, so that the law became the Export Apple Act and now applies to apples only. The new law was supported by both U.S. producers and exporters of pears because it allows the pear industry to meet the increasing demand for lower grade pears in foreign countries. USDA supported the bill and argued that the high quality of exported pears would continue to be assured by contractual arrangements between buyers and sellers and by requirements under State regulations and two Federal marketing orders for pears produced in Oregon and Washington. No objection to the deletion of pears from the 1933 act was expressed by the apple industry.
Most fruits and vegetables are picked by hand, so that produce growers are dependent on hired and contract labor. When these growers cannot get sufficient domestic labor to harvest their crops, the H-2A program is an alternative source of farmworkers. The program provides for the temporary admission of foreign agricultural workers into the United States, provided domestic workers are not available. The program is authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act, (Section 101(a)(15)(H)(ii)(a)). In 1997, about 2 million workers were employed in farmwork, excluding farmers and farm managers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Of this number about 600,000 farmworkers were illegal and 34,898 farmworkers were certified by the Department of Labor for the H-2A program in 1998.
For farmers to employ H-2A workers, they must follow procedures that involve the Department of Labor and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Farmers must apply for workers at least 60 days in advance of the time they are needed and must provide both domestic and foreign workers with free housing and workers' compensation.
In recent years farmers have argued that the H-2A program does not provide an adequate number of workers at the times needed, and on relatively short notice. They have recommended that the H-2A program be expanded to meet the labor needs of farmers and point out that a crackdown on illegal immigration is reducing the number of workers available. They also would like to see the guestworker program simplified so that it is easier for farmers to use. On a broader scale, proponents note that an adequate number of farmworkers is needed to keep the U.S. competitive in the global marketplace; without an adequate number of farmworkers, U.S. producers of labor-intensive commodities will abandon production and agricultural jobs will go to other countries.
Opponents of an expanded H-2A program generally include U.S. farmworkers, their labor representatives, and farmworker advocates. They argue that there is no current or future shortage of farmworkers, and that increasing the size of the guestworker program would increase the number of illegal workers who compete with legal domestic workers. They further argue that if farmers want to attract an adequate number of domestic agricultural workers, they should raise wages and improve working conditions.
In the 106th Congress, hearings on the H-2A program were held on May 12, 1999, by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration. Later in the year Section 748 of the FY2000 agriculture appropriations act (P.L. 106-78) amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to reduce the Department of Labor's approval time for processing farm workers' applications for legal H-2A workers. Conference report language for P.L. 106-113 instructed the Department of Labor (DOL) to prepare a report containing options (a) to promote a legal domestic workforce in the agricultural sector, and (b) to improve compensation and benefits, living conditions, and better transportation between jobs. The report is to be submitted to Congress as soon as possible.
The Agricultural Job Opportunity Benefits and Security Act of 1999 (S. 1814) was introduced in October 1999, and a nearly identical House bill (H.R. 4056) was introduced in March 2000 . A hearing was held on S. 1814 on May 4, 2000, by the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee. Both bills were proposed to reform the H-2A program. They would adjust the legal status of currently illegal agricultural workers, providing a process by which these workers can eventually become "legal permanent" residents. They would create a computerized national registry system that favors the hiring of U.S. workers first, followed by "adjusted" workers, and finally the recruitment of H-2A workers if no U.S. or adjusted workers are available. Both U.S. and H-2A workers would be paid the prevailing wage rate or a modified "adverse effect wage rate" (re-defined as 5% above the prevailing rate of pay). Farmworkers, both U.S. and foreign, would be provided housing or a housing allowance, would be reimbursed for some transportation costs, and would receive worker protections, including partial coverage under the Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.
The Agricultural Opportunities Act (H.R. 4548) was introduced May 25, 2000, and a hearing was held on June 15 by the House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee. The bill would establish a pilot H-2C foreign agricultural worker program to supplement the existing H-2A program; it would create a system of agricultural worker registries; and it would require agricultural employers to apply for registry workers before being allowed to import H-2C workers. Unlike S. 1814/H.R. 4056, it would not adjust the legal status of currently illegal agricultural workers. The bill would also make provisions for wages, housing, and transportation similar to S. 1814/H.R. 4056).
(For further details on the H-2A agricultural guestworker program and on legislation to change it, see CRS Report 97-714, Immigration: The "H-2A" Temporary Agricultural Worker Program, CRS Report RL30395, Farm Labor Shortages and Immigration Policy; and CRS Issue Brief IB10044, Immigration Legislation and Issues in the 106th Congress.)
Methyl bromide is a pesticide that is widely used by the fruit and vegetable industry. About 87% of the total agricultural uses is used for soil fumigation to protect crops against weeds, insects, and plant diseases. Another 8% is used on crops after harvest to prevent the export of pests to foreign countries. About 5% is used for fumigation of warehouses, silos, food processing facilities, and transportation vehicles.
Despite its wide use in agriculture, methyl bromide has some detractors. One criticism is that its use contributes to destruction of the ozone layer in the earth's upper atmosphere. Ozone protects both humans and ecosystems from ultraviolet light, and its depletion has been linked to a rising incidence of skin cancer and eye cataracts. An international agreement known as the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances which Deplete the Ozone Layer requires that the use of methyl bromide be gradually reduced and completely eliminated by 2005 in industrialized countries. Developing countries have until 2015 to eliminate the use of the pesticide. In the United States the deadline for the elimination of methyl bromide had been moved up to 2001 under the Clean Air Act (see CRS Issue Brief IB10004 and CRS Issue Brief IB97003). Legislation was proposed in the 105th Congress as well as the previous Congress to delay the phaseout of the use of methyl bromide, and a hearing was held on the subject in June 1998 by the House Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research. Under Section 764 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act for FY1999 (P.L. 105-277), the phaseout was delayed from 2001 to 2005. This provision harmonizes the U.S. phaseout schedule with the schedule in the Montreal Protocol as amended in 1997. It also permits the use of methyl bromide for fumigation of exports of U.S. produce to foreign countries and of produce imported into the United States, since no alternative currently exists for this purpose. Under Section 743, Title VII, of the conference report language, the conferees expect the Agricultural Research Service to submit to Congress a report on methyl bromide alternatives research 6 months after enactment.
Opponents of the use of methyl bromide until after 2005 contend that there are some approved chemical and nonchemical alternatives to methyl bromide already in use, and many are in advanced stages of research. Another contention is that methyl bromide itself is hazardous to the health of farmworkers who work in the fields where it is applied, as well as residents who live near those fields. According to the EPA, exposure can lead to respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological problems, including inflammation of nerves and organs, and degeneration of eyes as well as fetal defects in pregnant women. Because of the reported effects of exposure to methyl bromide, farmworker advocate groups and other groups want the pesticide banned as soon as possible. Supporters of methyl bromide use contend that there are no economically viable alternatives currently available, and note that some of the suggested alternatives are not acceptable to major export markets (i.e. irradiation) or adversely affect the quality or shelf life of the exported produce (i.e. heat treatment).
Title I of the FY2000 agriculture appropriations act (P.L. 106-78) provides $2 million for the methyl bromide transition program as part of the integrated research, education, and extension competitive grants programs (Integrated Activities). Title I of the FY2001 agriculture appropriations (P.L. 106-387/H.R. 4461) provides $2.5 million for the methyl bromide transition program.
(For further details, see CRS Issue Brief IB97003, Stratospheric Ozone Depletion: Implementation Issues; CRS Report 98-590, Methyl Bromide and Stratospheric Ozone Depletion Policy Issues; and CRS Issue Brief IB97007, Clean Air Act Issues.)
The United States has an estimated 11,000 organic farmers, although only 5,000 are officially certified organic by state or private certification organizations. The majority of these farmers grow fruits and vegetables. States with the highest acreage planted in organic vegetables are Texas, California, and Florida. Similar information for states growing organic fruit is not available. According to the Natural Foods Merchandiser, a trade magazine for the natural foods industry, organic product sales were $4 billion in 1999, a growth of 22% over 1998 sales in natural products stores. Organic fruit and vegetable sales were $833 million out of the $4 billion. Sales of organic products also have increased in conventional supermarkets in recent years. Sales for selected organic frozen vegetables increased between 1991 and 1996 by 67.8% while their conventional frozen vegetable counterparts either stayed about the same or declined slightly during 1993-1996. Similar figures for organic frozen fruit and organic fresh produce are unavailable.
The USDA market analysts suggest that the demand for organic foods has grown in recent years for a number of reasons. Among these are the increase in the number of high-quality natural product supermarkets, the introduction of more organic products in conventional supermarkets, and growth in direct marketing of organics through farmers' markets and consumer supported agricultural associations (CSAs). Increasing numbers of consumers wish to avoid pesticide residues and state that they prefer the taste and appearance of organic foods, analysts suggest. Some consumers also are concerned about farm worker safety and environmental issues such as soil and water quality and wildlife habitat.
Data on exports and imports of organic produce do not exist, either by volume or by sales value. Nevertheless, according to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, markets with export opportunities for U.S. organic produce exporters are Canada, Europe, and the Asian countries of Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and possibly Japan, although Japan's requirement for fumigation of fruits and vegetables is a barrier to fresh organic produce. Organic produce imports into the United States come from Latin American countries, but there is no data with which to determine which of these countries are the major sources.
Organic farmers are concerned that USDA has not yet published a final rule establishing national organic standards. In the late 1980s, the organic foods industry asked the federal government to establish a national standard to replace the various state and private certification standards for organic foods. Congress subsequently passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). It established a National Organic Standards Board and charged it with developing a set of national standards and a National List of acceptable organic inputs. It also authorized a National Organic Program (NOP) to accredit producers, processors, and handlers based on the national standards and on the National List of acceptable organic production inputs. The NOP, however, has not been implemented because of differences between USDA and the National Organic Standards Board and because the USDA final regulations have not yet been issued. USDA proposed a national organic standards rule in December 1997 and received about 200,000 comments. The rule would have allowed foods bearing the organic label to be produced with biotechnology, irradiation, and municipal sewage sludge (biosolids). Supporters contended that such foods are safe. Opponents rejected these three practices as dangerous to the health of humans and ecosystems, and asserted that the practices contradict the fundamental premise of organic foods, which favors back-to-nature methods instead of new technology. A revised proposed rule published in March 2000, eliminates the three practices and a final rule is expected by the end of the year. Once the NOP is operational, it will be paid for by fees collected from producers, certifying agents, and handlers.
AMS has budgeted $998,000 for FY2000 for implementation of the National Organic Program, but it did not receive the $580,000 that the Administration had requested for expansion of market reporting of organically grown fruits and vegetables. The FY2001 agriculture appropriations (P.L 106-387/H.R. 4461) provides $639,000 for the National Organic Program only after the promulgation of a final rule and $500,000 for the organic transition program.
For further information, see CRS Report 98-264, Organic Foods and the Proposed Federal Certification and Labeling Program.
Minor-use pesticides are chemicals that are used on small market crops such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Currently the EPA is reviewing these and other pesticides because of requirements under the Food Quality and Protection Act (FQPA), P.L. 104-170, which became law in August 1996. The FQPA established a new safety standard for pesticide residues on foods, which directs the EPA to ensure a "reasonable certainty of no harm" due to pesticide exposure. EPA must assess harm considering all sources of pesticide exposure and exposure to other similar pesticides. Before the FQPA, harm was assessed for each pesticide and food use. The law also requires EPA to review all existing residue tolerances against the new safety standard within 10 years of enactment, so that all pesticides will be reviewed by August 2006. By August 1999, at least 33% of pesticides are required to be reviewed.
Growers in the fruit and vegetable industry fear that during the review EPA might cancel registrations for many minor-use pesticides (including organophosphates and carbomates, such as methyl parathion) that are considered essential to the prosperity of the industry. Grower organizations contend that if these pesticides are no longer allowed for use on fruit and vegetable crops, production costs for these crops will increase, thousands of U.S. growers will go out of business, consumers will become more dependent on imported produce, prices for produce will increase significantly, and successful Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs will be disrupted. Pesticide manufacturers are concerned that EPA will evaluate pesticide products unfairly in order to meet its deadlines.
Consumer organizations, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with the safety of foods that contain pesticide residues, especially the safety of foods consumed by infants and children. It is argued that the levels of pesticides now legally permitted on foods are much higher than what is safe for children. Some consumer organizations believe the EPA is moving too slowly on restricting the use of the most toxic organophosphates and that it should speed up registration of safer alternative pesticides. The Consumers Union in 1998 identified alternatives for 40 pesticides that it considers to be high-risk and stated that many American farmers are successfully using these alternatives without the application of organophosphates.
On August 2, 1999, EPA announced cancellation of the use of methyl parathion on 26 fruits and vegetables, and it tightened restrictions on the use of azinphos methyl. Both pesticides are widely used on fruits and vegetables. EPA explained that the actions were taken to reduce the risk to children and to provide greater protection to farm workers. The agency also allowed the registration of 47 new, safer pesticides that can serve as lower-risk alternatives to more toxic pesticides, such as organophosphates.
P.L. 104-170, in addition to its provisions on registrations, required that EPA develop and distribute to the nation's grocery stores a consumer brochure on pesticides that explains the risks and benefits of pesticide residues on food. The first copies of the brochure were made available in February 1999. A paragraph in the original draft was controversial because it recommended that consumers could buy organic products as a way to reduce their exposure to pesticides on food. The final brochure modified the paragraph to say that foods grown using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) or organic practices were foods grown using few or no pesticides, but there are currently no national standards on these farming practices.
Dissatisfaction continues with the wording of the brochure, although EPA has no immediate plans to change it. Although some in the food industry are pleased with the brochure, others believe the brochure is sending a mixed message to consumers--telling them that food is unsafe because of pesticide residues and at the same time encouraging them to eat more fruits and vegetables. Consumer groups charge that the brochure does not warn the public about the potential health risks of pesticide residues on food. They further contend that the brochure is misleading consumers by suggesting that EPA is protecting the public from the harmful effects of pesticides when, according to their view, that will not be true until the FQPA is fully implemented.
In the 106th Congress three similar bills have been proposed to ensure that sound science and public discussion is used in decisions on suspending or restricting pesticides, among other provisions. The bills are the Regulatory Fairness and Openness Act of 1999 (H.R. 1592 and its companion bill S. 1464), and the FQPA Implementation Act of 1999 (H.R. 1334). A subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee also held hearings in April 1999 on EPA's implementation of the FQPA to determine if the agency is using "sound science" and "real-world data" in making decisions on organophosphate pesticides.
For further information, see CRS Issue Brief IB10003, Environmental Protection Issues in the 106th Congress; CRS Report RS20043, Pesticide Residue Regulation: Analysis of Food Quality Protection Act Implementation; and CRS Report 96-759, Pesticide Legislation: Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-170).
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