Nut & Agricultural Products Section

Diana Thompson
Anchor Ingredients

Three-plus decades ago, our predecessors in the Nut & Ag Section had the foresight to create four products sold by members of the section: cashew kernels, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and dried apricots. The specs, which focus primarily on quality issues, were needed to address ongoing quality issues. The creation of the specifications put an end to many disputes regarding quality because the parameters were in black and white and contracts started to include language referring to the AFI specifications. The specs quickly became the standards against which those products were sold, not only to U.S. buyers but to buyers around the world. Still today, most contracts/purchase orders involving those four products include language about meeting the AFI specs.

The standards were adopted after much input from both a scientific and commercial standpoint. In fact, the introduction to the apricots standard says: “This standard outlines specifications for Fancy, Natural and Industrial Quality dried apricots. It is a consolidation of the USDA, FDA, Codex, Turkish government and U.S. trade standards, historically recognized by the importing community organized under the Nut and Agricultural Products Section of AFI.”

I’m certain that when the standards were drafted, it was expected they periodically would have to be updated. That’s happened with all four specifications to date and is happening again on all four as I write this. Many times, a spec review begins with a suggestion by one or more members. The suggested changes are then shared with technical experts and others throughout the world that trade in that particular product. No change is ever made without seeking input from importers and suppliers of the product. The goal is to give all interested parties, including trade associations in producing countries, the opportunity to provide input to ensure the suggested changes are valid and attainable. The final step in the process is a vote by the membership.

In this instance, we decided to review all the specs to ensure all were worded in line with today’s trading reality. One of the first steps was to establish task forces comprised of importers of each of the four products. A fifth task force was created to consider creating an AFI specification for macadamia nuts – a spec that would unify existing specs, putting everything into one document.

The task forces considered input received to date and reviewed the respective spec in depth to suggest any possible changes. Then, at the 2019 AFI Convention, we lengthened the time of our section meeting so the task forces could present their findings and all in attendance could provide input. To date, most of the proposed changes are simply clarifications to make the existing specifications as clear as possible.

The next step in the process is to work the input received at the convention into updated drafts of the specifications and then reach out to the rest of the industry for additional feedback. We want to be certain we don’t make any changes that place unrealistic demands on our suppliers and we want to make sure the specs are worded in a way that means the same thing to all who read them. Once we’re confident we’ve received input from all concerned parties and there is agreement on a specification, each will be put out to a vote for acceptance by the AFI membership.

All four standards are available on the Resources section of the AFI website. Updated versions will appear on the site as soon they become final. If a specification is indeed created for macadamias, it will be added to the site upon approval by the membership.

I encourage all reading this to provide input. Even if a specification has been updated before you read it, we want to hear from you if you think we’ve missed something. We’re not a government agency, so we can make changes more regularly – as the need arises. What’s important to us is that we get it right – that each of our specs reflects and addresses the needs of those trading in that particular product.

The nut and dried fruit industries provide a great example of how an industry works best when all sectors communicate and cooperate with one another. The industry has a long history of working together in areas such as promotion and research. In the case of these product specs, AFI has taken the lead in ensuring product meets expected norms but takes care to do so in a way that ensures all voices are heard. I hope all reading this will take advantage of some of the many opportunities to have a voice in your industry’s future.

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
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