WORLD FACTORS AND THE NEED FOR COOPERATION, COLLABORATION, AND CREDIBILITY
by Peter Furth
World Spice Congress
I am particularly honored and pleased to have been given the opportunity to address you. The topics I have been asked to discuss have been the primary thrust of much of ASTA's work in recent years.
There are many world factors that have caused our industry to change. This is true not only of the spice industry, but of the world economy in general.
We have seen the world change so radically in the past few years that some of us have a hard time grasping the reality and the magnitude of what has happened. Who here would have predicted just five years ago that the Soviet Union and the Eastern Block countries would be rushing to democracy and capitalism to the extent that they have? It seems that the changes have become more radical and have happened at a faster pace than ever before.
The fact is that with all of this change, the world is rapidly becoming one marketplace - smaller and more interdependent. Globalization is becoming a reality.
I am convinced that the changes we are seeing now are only the tip of the iceberg. These changes will continue and will only make our jobs more difficult. Consumers throughout the world continue to place increasing demands directly and through their governments on the food industry to supply safe, healthy, and clean food products at all times. In fact, we in the spice industry are now being forced to deal with the types of issues that many other industries have been facing for quite some time.
Governments throughout the world have continued to put restrictions on the spice trade. This is particularly true in the United States, where we have seen our government take action in ways that have made it difficult, if not impossible, to continue to operate as we have in the past - in areas such as pesticides, sterilants, labeling, sanitation, and tariffs.
This phenomenon seems to be true not only in the United States, but also in many other countries. We believe that this trend will continue for years to come. Because of this, we decided to begin to explore what similar organizations were doing throughout the world. By learning more about our similarities and beginning a dialogue, we could begin to see how we could work more closely for the good of the spice industry. After discussions with organizations such as the Spices Board, the International General Produce Association, the European Spice Association, and the Canadian Spice Association, we have all agreed that closer cooperation and improved communications would be beneficial to everyone.
ASTA has heard, understood, and responded in many ways to these demands. We have, in the last decade, instituted numerous programs and procedures which, we believe, makes our system a strong, and effective one to help ensure that we provide a good product to our customers.
I would like to briefly outline the steps we have taken to broaden and, in some respects, tighten our programs.
ASTA has begun a very active Government Relations Program in the last few years. We are relative newcomers on the scene. Many other industries have had such plans in place for some time. While we have just begun, I think we are well on our way to a most successful undertaking. As part of our program, we are monitoring the Federal regulatory environment. We are becoming capable of addressing the regulatory roles of each of the three branches of our government - Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.
We are putting in place the mechanisms to persuade the Congress and the Executive Branch to support the interests of the spice industry, consistent with the public interest. Also, we must maintain the ability to act effectively, when necessary, in the Federal judicial system.
We believe our efforts in this area are a prime example of what an effective trade association can accomplish in a relatively short time period. Just a few years ago, ASTA set out specific goals and objectives for the organization. Our number one objective was the “acceptance of ASTA by United States government agencies as the authoritative and credible source of information, assistance and solutions to issues involving spices.” It is with great pride that I can report to you that in this short time we have achieved our objective. We are now viewed by both the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency as the lead authority for the spice industry. They now come to us for assistance and information, very often before we even go to them. We believe our efforts, both publicly and privately, are both credible and effective.
We are learning how to solve our problems and can look forward to the day when we will be ahead of the game. We cannot afford to let others dictate what we as an industry can or cannot do. After all, we (not only those of us in the United States, but also those of you from throughout the world) are the professionals with the greatest knowledge and understanding of our industry and our customers. We know best what can be done, what should be done, and how to accomplish what needs to be done, without sacrificing the health and safety of all concerned. We believe that this is a key area which demands close cooperation on an international level. If we all work independently, we will have missed a golden opportunity.
We also have a strong, effective program in areas dealing with quality. We are working both at home and abroad to improve the quality and sanitation of spices.
Perhaps our most significant efforts in this area were those taken with respect to our Cleanliness Specifications. In 1988, our Board of Directors charged the Standards Committee to attain agreement from our trade on a single set of FDA/ASTA macroscopic standards. This was an issue for several reasons. First, there were significant quantitative and qualitative differences between ASTA and FDA on macroscopic specifications for raw, unprocessed spices, primarily in the excreta category. Second, there was an obvious disparity in the ASTA contract which stated that merchandise traded on that contract must comply with FDA regulations and ASTA Specifications. Our Accredited Laboratories were only charged with analyzing raw material samples for compliance to ASTA Specifications, not to those of FDA. Third, it was a well-known fact that FDA was only sampling approximately two to four percent of imported foods. Thus, it became incumbent upon the industry to rely on self-regulation if we wanted to assure our customers of a safe and healthy spice supply.
In 1989, our members unanimously voted in favor of changes which created a unified set of macroscopic standards which are, at all times, at least as restrictive as FDA's Defect Action Levels. In addition to these modifications, a number of other changes were made to the program which significantly improved our system.
In addition to these modifications, a number of other changes were made to the program which significantly improved our system. In 1987, the membership adopted the Commodity Tracking Program, which became effective in April, 1989. This program, which is incorporated into the ASTA contracts, requires all results of analysis to be reported in to the ASTA office. Through the use of a computer program, results are tracked on a pass/fail basis and an official ASTA code number is assigned to each passing certificate. Goods that fail are not assigned a code number until evidence is given that they have been reconditioned and a proper analysis after reconditioning has been conducted. The U.S. Customs entry number, commodity name, importing vessel name, bill of lading number, and marks are all screened to insure that duplicate samples are not drawn on the same lot. The system has worked well, and it is our belief that re-analysis of the same lot without reconditioning has been eliminated.
In addition to these changes, over the last few years we have also instituted a Laboratory Accreditation Program. Our labs are audited once a year and are required to perform at a pre-determined minimum level. We now have three accredited laboratories. We have also added definitions of extraneous matter to our Cleanliness Specifications, and are currently working to finalize sampling guidelines. At the same time, we are always reviewing and updating our analytical procedures to ensure that our laboratories can do the best job possible of obtaining accurate results.
ASTA has continued to emphasize the importance of a higher quality product in other ways as well. A number of years ago, our Sanitation Committee, which has been renamed the Quality Assurance Committee, began its work with the development of a pamphlet on warehouse sanitation. This expanded into the creation of the Clean Spices Manual. We then began holding overseas educational seminars where we presented our program. Since our initial presentation of the seminar here in India, we have held additional programs in Egypt and Turkey. We are currently working to design a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) program for the prevention, detection, and control of Salmonella in pepper. Once the program is designed, it is our intention to incorporate it into our presentation in pepper producing countries. We believe our Clean Spices Program is a model program for producing and consuming nations to work together to provide the highest quality products in the most effective and efficient manner.
There are two other areas where we have undertaken work and developed programs which reflect our moves towards more stringent quality requirements. The first is in the area of methodology. We are currently working to update our Microbiological Methods and our Analytical Methods. We plan on publishing the next editions of these manuals in the near future. The second area is that of finished goods specifications. Over the last two years, our Manufactured Products Group has worked to develop templates, outlining the parameters which should be addressed in specifications for processed spices. Work is continuing in this area, and the current thinking is that ASTA should develop specifications for those areas which are regulated by the government. We may also look into creating a database of information concerning all parameters, so that we can give the industry a profile of the merchandise which is currently entering into commerce.
ASTA has been working for many years in technical areas. Many of these also border on regulatory areas. One of the most important issues we have begun to deal with is that of pesticides. A few years ago we began to screen samples of imports for the presence of pesticides. We are in the process of implementing our Pesticide Screen Management Program, which we expect to be ongoing for many years to come. We have also begun to incorporate a Pesticide Education Program into our efforts at educating both our domestic members and overseas suppliers. And finally, we have formed the Pesticide Advisory Task Force, comprised of members of the industry, our Executive Vice President, our Counsel, and various key consultants from outside the industry. They have been charged with developing a set of alternative plans of action for the industry to come to grips with the pesticide issues that are a potential threat to the very existence of our industry. This group is expected to present its final report and recommendations to the Board of Directors in January.
As many of you know, we are also continuing extensive work to protect the industry's ability to use both Ethylene Oxide and Methyl Bromide. The Ethylene Oxide Project is probably ASTA's most ambitious and costly effort in its entire history. Some of you have questioned why we would even consider such an undertaking and spend in the range of two to three million dollars when many countries no longer permit the use of the chemical. We believe that our industry has an obligation, both morally and legally, to provide a safe product to the consumer at all times. The reality is that in the United States, we have been given the opportunity to prove the safety and effectiveness of Ethylene Oxide when used on spices. It is our belief that banning the use of EtO on spices in the United States would do irreparable harm to our industry and the food supply in general. The proof of its importance is that our members were willing to voluntarily commit in excess of $2 million over and above their other commitments to ASTA to fund this project. The industry and the government are both unwilling to force the use of irradiation on the U.S. consumer at this time.
ASTA has also continued an active technical program in many other areas. One of our most exciting opportunities is the creation of the International Spice Research Institute, which we have been working hard to launch for the past few years. We believe this effort will go a long way towards serving the needs of the entire industry worldwide. This is true for both the producing and consuming countries. The mission of the ISRI will be to foster the development of scientific and technical knowledge related to spices, including the knowledge of the growing, harvesting, processing, safety, health aspects, quality and use of spices.
We also have a strong and effective program in the areas of communications and public relations. ASTA has had a Public Relations Program since 1938. It began at a time when our industry was concerned that a decline in spice consumption might cause the demise of the industry. Today, nothing could be further from the truth. Our consumption continues to grow, and we believe that the United States spice industry is facing a bright future. We also believe that one reason we have a bright future is the long term commitment we have made to our Public Relations Program, along with our long-standing relationship with our public relations agency, Lewis & Neale, Inc.
While we don't deny that many factors have contributed to the increase in spice consumption, we know that ASTA's Public Relations Program has had a massive impact on the American consumer. And we know that consumption has grown dramatically - from 491 million pounds in 1980 to 762 million pounds in 1990 - a 55 percent increase!
Perhaps the most compelling reason for making sure our Public Relations Program is in place and working well is the future we face. We live in a world where perceptions and impressions often overshadow reality. Many of you have heard how the publicity dealing with the use of the pesticide Alar nearly destroyed the apple industry in the United States. The results are far worse than they needed to be - largely because the apple industry was not prepared.
We at ASTA are proud of what we have accomplished through our long-standing commitment to a strong, effective Public Relations and Communications Program. We believe that such a commitment can lead not only to an increase in consumption, but to a better educated consumer who gains a new understanding and respect for the power of our product in their diet. These gains can only lead to a stronger and more viable industry in the long run.
If anyone thinks that our expenditures in these areas are wasteful, let me assure you they are not. When we encounter articles such as the one recently published on October 12, 1992 in Food Chemical News, the headline of which was “Apples, Grapes, Spices Likely Hardest Hit By Delaney Decision,” we are reminded that we must be prepared to communicate effectively with the industry, the technical community, governmental agencies, and the consuming public.
Let us also discuss the issues of trading between the producing and consuming countries. We have always been active in areas of contracts, arbitration, and specifications. We have already been approached by various parties throughout the world to work together to achieve a common contract and standards for the industry. We believe this is a natural area for cooperation.
We can cooperate in the area of standards and quality. I cannot think of a better way to solve those problems and deal with those issues than to have one uniform set of worldwide, acceptable standards.
We can keep each other abreast of scientific advances and developments in the regulatory arenas in each of our countries.
By communicating our problems and by solving them collectively, we as an industry will continue to prosper. At the same time, we will continue to provide the consumer with a clean, safe food supply.
We at ASTA stand ready to cooperate, collaborate, and share any and all information and ideas for the benefit of the spice industry worldwide.
We all have our problems - from the producer to the consumer. None of us alone can solve these problems for the benefit of all. It is only through closer cooperation and the open exchange of information and ideas that we will all move in one direction for the general good of the industry.
It is my hope that collectively, we will not view all the demands on our industry as barriers to trade, but rather as an opportunity in the world today - to participate in a large, growing consumer oriented marketplace by supplying wholesome, nutritious, clean and safe products.
November 6, 1992