WASHINGTON -- Businesses filing a complaint under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act would have to pay a filing fee of up to $360 that could be reimbursed if damages are found, according to a bill passed by the House June 17. The Senate is expected to approve the measure soon.
The temporary fee, which would be in place through 1996, results from an agreement between produce growers and grocers who have been at odds over a proposed hike in the PACA license fee.
The fee hike was originally offered to solve a budgetary shortfall at the PACA branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the transactions among the various segments of the produce industry.
Grocers and wholesalers, represented by the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association and the Food Marketing Institute, objected to the fee hike and pushed the idea of levying the complaint fees.
Bruce Gates, a NAWGA vice president, said that the almost 60-year-old Act benefits sellers more than it does wholesalers and grocers because it is invoked primarily by producers claiming they have not been paid. Under the Act, a producer can file a complaint under PACA that payment has not been received. Under the new procedures, a $60 filing fee would be levied for each informal reparation complaint filed, and an additional $300 handling fee would be charged for complaints that must be settled in court. If the complainant is found to have suffered damages, the fees would be reimbursed.
"Those people who have been using the PACA system will finally have to shoulder their fair share of the financial burden of the PACA program," Tim Hammonds, FMI president, said in a statement. "The new filing fees are expected to bring down the number of frivolous claims that are filed and should reduce the size of the PACA bureaucracy and its cost."
John McClung, vice president of government affairs for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, disputed the claim that many of the complaints are frivolous. "Everyone doesn't know they will be paid and a seller has to protect himself. There is nothing frivolous about it."