Washington Update

The House-approved Farm Bill awaits Senate action. Meanwhile, nutrition restrictions and peanut labeling have been avoided.
The new Farm Bill, approved by the House of Representatives in late July, does not include new potential restrictions on food products that can be sold to Food Stamp recipients or under the school lunch program, marking an important success for the Snack Food Association and allied food organizations.
The bill also omits previously proposed provisions that would have required country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for snack peanuts, a move that also was opposed by the SFA because as processed foods, peanuts should not be subjected to those labeling provisions. Food Stamp benefits would be updated to reflect higher costs, and an estimated $840 million is promised to provide school meals to poor children in developing countries.
The bill, adopted 231-191, extends major loan and price support programs for producers and tightens subsidy payments. Fruit and vegetable growers were successful in obtaining expanded assistance to support an initiative to increase inclusion of those products in federal nutrition programs.
“The new Farm Bill is the product of a tremendous amount of work both in Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” says SFA president and CEO Jim McCarthy. “The SFA and other industry groups worked very hard to prevent provisions that would have been harmful and prejudicial to our industry from being included, and we were successful. Now, our attention must turn to the Senate.”
A major partisan dividing point was a set of tax provisions added by Democratic leaders to help offset the bill’s costs and satisfy pay-as-you-go anti-deficit rules. A major provision would raise $7.48 billion over the next 10 years from foreign corporations with U.S. subsidiaries. The Bush Administration opposed these tax provisions and has threatened a veto unless they are modified in the Senate.
At an Agri-business Club luncheon attended by McCarthy in July, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he hopes to have the Senate version of the Farm Bill on the Senate floor for consideration by mid-October. He said it is important to expand the number of crop acres dedicated to biofuels and suggested that some of the land held in conservation be made available for this purpose.
FTC Applauds Industry’s Children’s Advertising Response
The food industry was credited in July by the Federal Trade Commission for its voluntary steps to improve marketing to children as part of the battle against childhood obesity.
FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, during a July 18 FTC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) forum, applauded the voluntary steps of 11 food and beverage companies that pledged to take part in a Council of Better Business Bureaus initiative designed to reduce marketing of less-than-healthy foods to children age 12 and under.
Noting that “childhood obesity is a significant health cost,” Majoras said the private-sector action can bring change more quickly and effectively than government regulation. The Better Business Bureau said that the companies involved represent two-thirds of the total children’s advertising market. Those companies are Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Candbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey, Masterfoods and Unilever. The SFA strongly supports this initiative and has endorsed the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s snack food guidelines for schools.
Even critics credited the industry for its positive action. Dr. Margo Wootan with the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that the number of major food companies setting some basic nutrition standards for the foods they advertise to children is a positive and historic development. She urged other companies to join the effort.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and often an industry critic himself, said the companies “have taken a significant and responsible step forward and shown their commitment to addressing obesity in children.” He also urged other companies to join in, and said, “With the health of our children at stake, our entire society must do its part and the time to act together is now.”
Appeals Court Restores Stricter Truck Driver Requirements
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has vacated two important portions of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service regulations: the increase of the daily driving limit from 10 hours to 11 hours and the 34-hour “restart” option for weekly on-duty limits. These actions came as a result of a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen and others.
The July 24 ruling also denied a petition filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which contended that the agency improperly restricted sleeper berth operations and failed to adequately consider the potential negative impacts of the consecutive 14-hour tour-of-duty, as well as loading and unloading issues.
The ruling maintains the current sleeper berth rules and the 14-consecutive-hour daily tour of duty.
The court found that FMCSA had not provided adequate notice or opportunity for public comment on the basis for its decision to permit 11, instead of 10, hours of daily driving time. As justification, the agency had created a new “operator-fatigue model” which purportedly took into account increased risk associated with additional hours of driving time. The court found, however, that FMCSA had not provided notice or opportunity for public comment on the new model, while disregarding prior research, which indicates a contrary result.
The court also found that once the basis for this decision had been disclosed (as a result of prior litigation), the agency’s rationale for the change was insufficient to explain its reasoning. The court said that the agency had failed to explain how it had constructed an operator-fatigue model that showed a much smaller increased risk of a fatigue-related accident from the 10th to the 11th hour of driving time than had previous studies.
Additionally, the court found that the agency “gave no explanation for the failure of its operator-fatigue model to account for cumulative fatigue due the increased weekly driving and working hours permitted by the 34-hour restart provision.”
The court’s ruling represents the second time it has sided against FMCSA’s hours of service rules, having struck down an earlier version in 2004, saying the agency failed to adequately consider its health effects on drivers.
FMCSA is expected to draft another rulemaking that more fully explains its reasoning on those two provisions. If the order is not stayed, federal rules will prohibit commercial drivers from operating their vehicles more than 10 hours within a continuous 14-hour period and will be limited to “weekly” limits of 60 hours during a seven day period and 70 hours during an eight day period, with no opportunity for a “restart” after taking off 34 consecutive hours.
SFA members are more likely to be negatively impacted by the loss of the 34-hour restart than the loss of the extra hour of driving time, since most of their drivers rarely exceed 10 hours of driving time per day. However, many fleets have been able to take advantage of the restart provision to offset other negative aspects of the rules, such as the 14-hour daily work limit.
Two Legislative Victories to Report
The SFA achieved two significant legislative victories — one on Capitol Hill and the other in the Maine state legislature — and McCarthy credited many members for contacting state and federal legislators to help assure success.
In late June, the U.S. Senate defeated the “Employee ‘Forced’ Choice Act,” which would have allowed employees to form unions by signing a card rather than voting by secret ballot. Defeating that bill was a key SFA priority and a top issue at the SFA’s Day in D.C. Spring Summit.
In Maine, the State Senate voted to indefinitely postpone Legislative Document 1925, a tax measure that proposed to amend the definition of “prepared foods” to include candy, soft drinks and “selective foods” (snack foods) and tax them at 8%.
Defeating this proposed legislation has been a top priority for the SFA and the Don’t Tax Food coalition, of which the SFA is a member.
After-School Snack Program to Expand
The House-approved Farm Bill will expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s After-School Snack Program and provide it with $350 million over the course of five years. However, it is possible to participate in the program now by meeting specific guidelines and requirements.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) offers cash reimbursement to help schools serve snacks to children in after-school activities aimed at promoting the health and well-being of children and youth in our communities. A school must provide children with regularly scheduled activities in an organized, structured and supervised environment, including educational and enrichment activities (e.g., mentoring or tutoring programs). Competitive interscholastic sports teams are not eligible after-school programs.
The programs must meet state or local licensing requirements, if available, or state or local health and safety standards. All programs that meet the eligibility requirements can participate in the National School Lunch Program and receive USDA reimbursement for after school snacks.
To be reimbursed, the snacks provided must contain at least two of the following components:
• A serving of fluid milk
• A serving of meat or meat alternative
• A serving of vegetable(s) or fruit(s) or full strength vegetable or fruit juice
• A serving of whole grain or enriched bread or cereal
Snacks served in after-school care programs that are “area-eligible” are provided to the children free, regardless of an individual student’s eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches. Snacks served in after-school care programs that are not area-eligible will be reimbursed at the free, reduced-price and paid rates, depending on each individual’s eligibility for free or reduced price meals.
An after-school care program site is “area-eligible” if it is located at a school or in the attendance area of a school where at least 50% of the enrolled children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. For example, if a high school with less than 50% free or reduced-price school enrollment is located in the attendance area of a middle school that has 50% or more of the enrolled children eligible for free or reduced price meals, then the after-school care program located in the high school would be area-eligible, according to USDA.