The 2007 Congressional Challenge
Key industry issues are on the agenda as the new Congress convenes.
Leading the agriculture agenda in the 110th Congress will be FY2007 funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and development of a new Farm Bill to replace the current law, which expires in 2007 — major initiatives that could pose challenges for the snack food industry.
Snack Food Association president and CEO Jim McCarthy says the association will work to protect industry interests should efforts be made to restrict the ability of federal food feeding programs, such as Food Stamps, to purchase and enjoy snack food products.
“We believe that nutrition education and balance is important and a much more effective and appropriate approach,” McCarthy says.
Meanwhile, McCarthy adds that the new Democratic-controlled Congress is likely to see aggressive legislative activity regarding food safety and advertising aimed at children.
“We expect efforts to be made to drum up support for creation of a single agency with responsibility for food safety regulation,” he says. “SFA supports the current system whereby both the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have specific food safety responsibilities.”
McCarthy predicts that efforts to restrict advertising directed at children will be intensified under the guise of reducing childhood obesity. He also cautions that the same argument will continue to be made to regulate the sale of certain food and beverage products on school campuses.
“A better approach would be to encourage and support nutrition education and physical activities in our schools,” he suggests, noting that the SFA has supported such initiatives as Kidnetic.com and PE4Life, which is designed to encourage physical activity programs, and believes that schools should provide time and opportunities for kids to exercise.
“Balance is what’s important,” McCarthy says. Regarding advertising, he points out that the SFA is an active supporter of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, a self-regulatory body charged with making sure that ads directed at children are truthful and appropriate.
Meanwhile, commodity price and income support policy, conservation, rural development, trade and biofuels also will be considered by the new Congress, along with agroterrorism and farm labor issues.
McCarthy explains that with the change in political control in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, chances have lessened for approval of national uniformity for foods legislation, a measure that would have established a single federal standard for food labeling.
“We came close last year with approval by the House, but unfortunately the Senate did not follow suit,” he says. “Most of our support came from the Republican side of the aisle. Now, many of those members are no longer in Congress.”
A similar problem may exist with another bill supported by the SFA — the so-called “Cheeseburger Bill,” which would restrict the ability of consumers to succeed in lawsuits that seek to blame food companies for their obesity.
“However, we will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to advance these initiatives,” McCarthy said. “These things do take time and we have grown accustomed to dealing with political change in Washington.”
This year will be an important time for the snack food industry. Because of the changes in Congress, the SFA encourages the active involvement and participation of member companies in each of these important legislative issues. The SFA president and CEO also urges members to participate in the SFA’s Day in D.C. Spring Summit, May 16-18, when they will have an opportunity to meet with members of Congress and other top government officials.
For more information, please contact the SFA at 1-703-836-4500.
FLSA Solution Blocked in Congress
Despite the best efforts of the SFA, its member companies and industry allies, the 109th Congress failed to achieve a legislative resolution of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime issue that is now confronting many snack food companies.
As a result of a drafting error when a transportation bill was previously enacted, drivers of many commercial vehicles under 10,001 pounds are now eligible for overtime pay under certain conditions.
Despite vigorous opposition from the Teamsters, an SFA-supported amendment to restore the status quo was unanimously approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee and included in the Senate version of the FY ’07 transportation appropriations bill. However, the outcome of the November elections and other political factors led Congress to put off action on appropriations bills until 2007.
The SFA made a last-ditch effort to have the provision included in a broad tax/trade bill that was enacted during the post-election “lame duck” session, but it was blocked by Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), who refused to allow the bill to be considered under unanimous consent if it included our language.
Oberstar, incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has indicated that he is open to discussing the issue in the context of truck safety and employee compensation. SFA president and CEO Jim McCarthy said the association will continue to seek a solution in the new 110th Congress, now underway.