Progress On Three Key Fronts
During the past several weeks, Congress has acted on three key issues important to the snack food industry, raising the hope that regulations and red tape opposed by Snack Food Association (SFA) and other industry groups may be avoided, or at least substantially delayed.
“It’s great to see lawmakers be so responsive,” said SFA President and CEO Jim McCarthy. “It means that the hard work we are doing on Capitol Hill is being recognized and that legislators are listening.”
McCarthy said important strides were made on these three key issues:
Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on snack peanuts
National Uniformity for Food legislation
The “Cheeseburger Bill”—legislation to limit liability for obesity.
“On all three of these issues, it is clear that lawmakers used a good dose of common sense in making their decisions,” McCarthy explained. “Some might say that’s unusual in Washington. I’d say it’s a sign that we are moving in the right direction.”
In a major victory for SFA and its members, Congress agreed to delay for two years implementation of mandatory country of origin labeling requirements previously imposed by Congress. The action was contained in the FY2006 agriculture appropriations conference report.
As a result, the COOL provisions affecting peanut products, meat and other food products, will not take effect until September 30, 2008. The effort to include peanuts in the extension began months ago when the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee included a repeal of COOL for meat only.
“SFA members pitched in and contacted their members of Congress asking for fairness on this issue,” McCarthy said. “That effort was extremely helpful. Contacts from business people back home do make a difference.”
The COOL requirements covered seafood, meat and peanuts, while excluding processed foods from the labeling requirements. The law imposed heavy fines on retailers if they sold covered products without the required country of origin labeling. Thus, suppliers would be required to furnish records reliable enough to withstand scrutiny of government auditors.
SFA has supported a voluntary labeling program, rather than mandatory requirements. “We are hopeful the extension provided will give us an opportunity to achieve that objective,” McCarthy said.
Looking for Uniformity
Long-awaited National Uniformity for Food legislation was by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) had 164 co-sponsors, a show of significant strength.
McCarthy and SFA’s public affairs consultant, Mike Torrey, were busy meeting with many members of Congress and their staff urging support of the legislation, and SFA sent an “action alert” to members asking for their help.
“We are asking members with operations in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Indiana, especially, to contact their legislators and urge them to support this bill,” McCarthy said. “Recent action in California on acrylamide labeling has served as a reminder on the necessity of this legislation.”
The National Uniformity for Food Act provides for national, uniform food safety standards and warning requirements. It amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to create a uniform, national system that not only recognizes the role of state and local governments in the regulation of food products, but also integrates them into the national system.
Under the current system, food regulation is composed of a variety of different, and sometimes inconsistent requirements. The bill seeks to harmonize those differences to achieve national uniformity.
SFA members can obtain more information from the “Members Only” page at http://www.sfa.org.
Pass the Mustard
The House of Representatives on October 19 passed the so-called “Cheeseburger Bill,” legislation that would bar lawsuits against food companies claiming their high-calorie offerings were to blame for a plaintiff’s obesity.
SFA worked with a coalition of food companies, restaurants and associations to win passage of the bill, and SFA members attending the associations 2005 Day-in-DC Spring Summit urged Congressmen and Senators they visited to support the measure.
Now, the bill must be approved by the Senate, where the similar legislation is sponsored by Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).