President Bush approves specialty crops bill
WASHINGTON - Right before the holidays, the produce industry got some good news from Washington.
President Bush signed the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act Dec. 21, funneling precious new money into programs that promote fruits and vegetables. Three years in the making, the new law authorizes $54 million annually for five years in grants that are designed to enhance the competitiveness of each state?s fresh produce crops.
'As a model for federal agricultural funding, none of the millions of dollars earmarked for the produce industry will come in the form of direct subsidies," said Western Growers Association President Thomas Nassif. "Instead, the funding will be an investment in the produce industry to enhance exports through technical assistance, specialized research programs, conservation, education, promotion, improved food inspection facilities and similar initiatives."
"Together with the 2002 farm bill and the child nutrition reauthorization, the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act marks continuing progress in our efforts to maintain the fruit and vegetable industry's competitiveness in the domestic and international marketplace," said United Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther.
At the same time, U.S. trade officials announced that the World Trade Organization had sided with the United States and found that a European Union regulation discriminated against U.S. products and producers.
At issue is an EU regulation challenged by the U.S. government as discriminating against certain products with food names known as "geographic indications," such as Idaho potatoes, Vidalia onions and Florida oranges.
"This is a big win for American farmers and food processors," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. "We brought this case because we believed that, under WTO rules, " U.S. farmers, ranchers and other food producers should have the same access to protection for "geographical indications? as European food producers. Europe clearly failed to provide this access."
Richard Kinney of the Florida Citrus Packers said that companies send about 5 million to 10 million cartons of Florida grapefruit to Europe each year, depending on the season. Florida has prime growing conditions, with rainfall and soil, to sell a heavy juice grapefruit. "We would want the world to know it came from Florida," he said.