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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to...

"I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help you." - Anon. (counted as one of the three great lies of all time)
Of course, depending on who you are, the lie may become truth.

A US court (a Texas court, incidentally) has upheld the USDA's June 2nd, 2003 decree that frozen French fries are "fresh vegetables." Horse hockey.

Tristero quotes part of an L.A. Times story (registration required) which appears to focus heavily on the interpretation of the word "fresh." However, one line from the article caught my attention:
Tim Elliott, a Chicago attorney who recently challenged the revision in a Texas federal courtroom on behalf of a bankrupt food distributor, said defining French fries as fresh vegetables defied common sense (Emphasis is mine - EG).
Being the curious type, I sought out the original USDA decision, as posted in the Federal Register. I quickly found what appears (to me) to be the real reason behind the decision:
The PACA (Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act) also imposes a statutory trust for the benefit of unpaid sellers or suppliers on all perishable agricultural commodities received by a commission merchant, dealer, or broker and all inventories of food or other products derived from the sale of such commodities or products. Sellers who preserve their trust rights are entitled to payment ahead of other creditors, from trust assets, of money owed on past due accounts.

In January 2000, a large food service distributor in the United States with annual net sales of approximately $8.9 million filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company, which listed over $30 million in produce debt, settled all PACA trust claims except five that involved over $11 million in coated and battered potato products. The firm contended that the coated and battered potatoes were not covered under the PACA trust provisions [7 U.S.C. 499e(c)]. As a result of the disputed bankruptcy claims, the Frozen Potato Products Institute (FPPI), a national trade association whose members are frozen potato processors accounting for 95 percent of all frozen potato products in the United States, in June 2000, asked AMS for a written advisory opinion to clarify whether or not coated or battered potato products are covered under the PACA. (again, all emphasis is mine - EG)
As I see it, the bankruptee told five of it's suppliers that they were S.O.L. for immediate money from the gov't. trust and they'd just have to wait for the bankruptcy court to settle what's owed...at which point the FPPI swings into action to lobby the USDA to change the rules so that, in the event of future such cases, the FPPI's members can go to the head of the trough. They won.

Yes, that's life in Dubya's America: Iraq has WMD's; the government isn't taking away your civil liberties; and frozen French fries are "fresh vegetables."

Horse hockey.