Sadly, not dissimilar to football, the political battle kicked off at both the state and federal level in January.
For a member-based advocacy and education association, our job switches between lobbying and reporting, depending on the nature of the issue as it relates to the grape and wine industry.
At the Washington state level, we’re tracking issues that impact the bottom-line of our members’ businesses, including paid family leave, paid sick leave and overtime pay. More specific to our vintner members is the winery wastewater general permit. Specific to growers: the Worker Protection Standard, plus the always-important water availability, water quality and crop protection tools (pesticides — whether organic or synthetic).
At the federal level, we’re tracking a multitude of impactful issues that matter to both vintners and growers at the agency level as well as in Congress: trade, labor supply, implementation of the Farm Bill and the Food Safety Modernization Act (for growers and wineries).
The Farm Bill, with 12 titles, funds many programs important to the grape and wine industry, as well as the tree fruit industry, from crop insurance and research to trade promotion and specialty crop initiatives. Paying close attention to how the U.S. Department of Agriculture implements these programs is a full-time job, but focusing only on industry priorities helps keep it manageable.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law Jan. 4, 2011, continues to be on the top of our list for focus and attention. FSMA was passed to protect public health by improving the safety and security of the nation’s food supply and includes five elements:
- Preventative controls to reduce the likelihood of contamination.
- Inspection and compliance.
- Safety measures for imported food products.
- Mandatory recall authority.
- Collaboration among federal, state, local, tribal and foreign food safety agencies.
As part of its implementation, the Food and Drug Administration issued the Produce Safety Rule on Nov. 13, 2015. This rule establishes standards for safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. Produce Safety Rule standards are based on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), and include:
—Requirements for worker health, hygiene and training.
—Monitoring water quality through testing and implementing corrective measures if standards are not met. (For grapes, this includes water that may be used to mix pesticides, clean equipment and tools and wash hands, but not water used for drip irrigation.)
—Restrictions governing application of biological soil amendments, such as manure and compost.
—Assessing risks associated with intrusion by domesticated and wild animals or the presence of fecal contamination.
—Cleaning and sanitation of equipment, tools and buildings.
A vineyard is considered a farm under the Produce Safety Rule, which excludes 34 commodities — including asparagus, potatoes, collards and figs because they are “rarely consumed raw” and their preparation by a consumer or commercial processor sufficiently reduces or eliminates microbial pathogens. Oddly, the list of rarely consumed-raw commodities does not include wine grapes.
Wine grapes sold to a winery ARE eligible for a commercial processing exemption from the Produce Safety Rule, but the grower MUST:
—Provide documentation with each shipment describing the grape variety, vineyard and specific block where the grapes were grown and also include a statement that the grapes are “not processed to adequately reduce presence of microorganisms of public health significance.”
—Get a written statement from each customer documenting the customer has established and is following procedures that will adequately reduce the presence of microorganisms of public health significance by processing grapes into wine.
—Maintain all documentation for a period of two years.
While the Washington Winegrowers and California Association of Winegrape Growers successfully worked with congressional members to include language in the Appropriations Act preventing FDA from enforcing the rule for wine grape growers, we continue to work with the FDA to add wine grapes to the list of commodities rarely consumed raw. This would ensure a permanent exemption and reduce the cost and impact of the Produce Safety Rule on wine grape growers in Washington and around the U.S.
Since the early 1980s, Washington Winegrowers Association has served grower and vintner members with advocacy and education. Since then, time and focus on issues at the state and federal level has multiplied several times over.
While we welcome the challenges and opportunities that 2019 promises to bring, we are cautiously optimistic about the ability of government to help the wine grape industry continue to grow. •
—by Vicky Scharlau
Vicky Scharlau is executive director of the Washington Winegrowers Association.