Members Talk to Feds During Day In D.C.
Note: For SFA’s briefing papers on the following topics, please visit www.sfa.org and click on Legislative Issues.
Members who participated in SFA’s Day in D.C., May 16-18 had an opportunity to meet personally with top decision-makers and ask for their help on key issues that can affect many companies’ bottom lines.
“These are people who really make the policy; they are the brain trust to the President,” said Tom Howe, president, Baptista’s Bakery, Inc., Franklin, Wis., after a special executive briefing by White House staff arranged by SFA for members attending the Day in D.C. event. “These are people who are making policy that is going to affect our business. This was a very valuable experience.”
The White House briefing by three key Presidential aides came on Thursday morning and followed Wednesday meetings with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and other top USDA officials, as well as a series of face-to-face meetings on Capitol Hill with key Congressmen, Senators and legislative staff.
“To be able to bring people in our organization here to participate in this experience is essential,” said Mike Schena, general manager, Better Made Snack Foods, Inc., Detroit, Mich. “SFA did an outstanding job of organizing this entire event.”
Meeting With USDA Officials
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Johanns welcomed SFA members to Washington, D.C., during a luncheon and legislative briefing in the Secretary’s Dining Room on May 17 before they went to Capitol Hill for meetings with key members of the House of Representatives and Senate.
Johanns encouraged SFA members to participate in the legislative process and to express their views about possible provisions of the new Farm Bill, now in the development stage. The nutrition title of the Farm Bill, which authorizes the Food Stamp Program, will expire in September of 2007. During 52 forums held around the country, some participants recommended incentives to encourage Food Stamp recipients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, and disincentives for the purchase of other items deemed less nutritious.
Undersecretary for Food and Nutrition Policy, Kate Coler, addressed various initiatives aimed at limiting what food and beverage products can be sold in public schools. She said the USDA wants to help Americans live a healthier lifestyle and supports efforts to encourage students to eat healthy and get more exercise. However, Coler said the USDA does not support limiting what foods can be sold in schools.
“I think the preventive approach of limiting what a person can buy is probably not the most effective approach,” she said.
Such an approach is contained in the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2006, which would define “foods of poor nutritional value.” SFA opposes that legislation.
Deputy Secretary Charles F. “Chuck” Conner also addressed Day in D.C. attendees, promising that the department will be “accessible to our industry partners.”
Other issues covered during the briefing by SFA staff and public policy consultants, and discussed during meetings on Capitol Hill, included:
The Commonsense Consumption Act (“The Cheeseburger Bill” — passed by the House with SFA’s help, pending in Senate)
The National Uniformity for Food Act (Passed by the House with SFA’s help, pending in Senate)
The United States Sugar Program (Farm Bill issue)
Country of Origin Labeling Provision for Processed Peanuts
SFA Members Lobby Congress
SFA members visited Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon, May 17, to meet with members of the House and Senate in their offices. There were dozens of meetings between SFA members and members of Congress and their legislative aides, during which industry executives informed their representatives about the impact that legislation pending before Congress would have on their businesses.
During one meeting, Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) showed interest in knowing more about a regulatory snafu at the Department of Transportation that could require payment of overtime to some route sales drivers of trucks less than 10,001 pounds.
Meanwhile, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) told SFA member company executives from his state that he favors the objectives of the National Uniformity bill, which would require uniform labeling on food products nationwide. He also favors the House-passed “Cheeseburger Bill,” aimed at stopping frivolous lawsuits against food companies and restaurants based on obesity claims.
Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) also indicated sympathy for the SFA’s position on the “Cheeseburger Bill” and National Uniformity.
The importance of the National Uniformity bill was emphasized when attorneys for the Environmental Law Foundation, Oakland, Calif., on May 25 filed a new round of notices regarding violations of California’s Proposition 65 for failing to warn consumers about exposure to the carcinogen acrylamide in potato chips. SFA immediately began contacting and advising affected companies.
Previously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, the National Uniformity bill was introduced in late May in the U. S. Senate as S. 3128. The bill would restrict states from creating a patchwork of food labeling and safety laws inconsistent with federal law.
More information about SFA’s work on acrylamide can be found at www.sfa.org.
White House Officials Brief SFA Members
During an hour-long session on Thursday, May 18, SFA members were briefed on economic policy, immigration reform and health policy by members of the White House staff.
Jeffrey F. Kupfer, special assistant to the president for economic policy, noted that President Bush had just signed during a White House ceremony legislation extending previously approved tax cuts, including capital gains, until 2010. He added that the Administration’s economic policies are succeeding, despite partisan criticism, pointing to numerous indicators that show the economy is healthy, business investment is increasing and more people have jobs than before the tax cuts were passed in 2003.
Kupfer said President Bush is hopeful the Senate will approve House-passed legislation to make permanent the estate tax (death tax) reductions, previously approved through 2010. Making the death tax reductions (to 15%) permanent is a key SFA priority.
Caroline Hunter, associate director of the office of public liaison, outlined President Bush’s plan for immigration reform, explaining that its key components are aimed at securing U.S. borders, making sure laws regarding the hiring of foreign workers are enforced and providing a temporary worker program.
Lance Leggitt, special assistant to the president for domestic policy, said the administration hopes to implement a technology-based interoperable healthcare records system so patients’ records can be shared by physicians and hospitals. To achieve that, systems must be harmonized. He also stressed the importance of patients understanding the true cost of the healthcare services they receive, and said he urges Congressional approval of legislation allowing small businesses to band together to obtain healthcare coverage and favorable rates.
Welcome Reception Held at SFA’s New Offices
Day in D.C. attendees were welcomed to SFA’s new offices in Arlington, Va., only minutes from downtown Washington D.C., during a reception held Wednesday evening, May 17. There, members got a tour of the offices and had a chance to relax and discuss the day’s events.
“This has been great,” said Harold Blank, senior vice president of manufacturing, Herr’s Foods, Inc., Nottingham, Pa. “Everything was very well organized, our Congressional visits were great, and the meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture was excellent. It has been very worthwhile. I’m glad I’m here to see how our government works.”
“This was well worth the effort,” reported Mike Schena, general manager, Better Made Snack Foods, Inc., Detroit. “In addition to the meetings and the importance of participating in them, there was also the networking. Look at the people here – years of experience. That’s an essential benefit of participating in SFA and Day in D.C.”