Washington Report

By Bob Gatty

The Farm Bill, food safety and transportation issues all are gaining attention from the SFA.

While much of the food industry’s attention in Congress this fall is focused on discussions over the 2007 Farm Bill and related issues, including food safety, the Snack Food Association also is working to resolve two serious transportation issues that threaten to be costly for many snack companies.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has been working on the Farm Bill since its return from the summer Congressional recess, addressing the broad components of the measure that include a broad array of crop-related issues, as well as such areas as the Food Stamp and School Lunch programs.
SFA president and CEO Jim McCarthy and public affairs consultant Mike Torrey have been working on Capitol Hill with other food industry allies, opposing any efforts to restrict the availability of snack food products to beneficiaries of those programs.
Once the Senate acts, its legislation must be reconciled with the House-passed version, which does not include such restrictions. The current Farm Bill expires September 30.
At the same time, Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has proposed food safety legislation that would require country-of-origin labeling of foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, limit importation of food to specified ports, establish a certification program for importers and impose import fees. The bill would grant the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls, impose analytical testing requirements on foreign and domestic facilities, and impose civil penalties. The SFA also is tracking this legislation and is concerned about many of its provisions.
Overtime Costs
A major push on Capitol Hill for the SFA this fall is an effort to rectify a government error that is proving costly for companies that employ drivers who operate commercial vehicles under 10,001 lb.
When Congress passed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005, there was a drafting error made that inadvertently provided a new right to overtime pay to thousands of such drivers, including those who operate commercial delivery vehicles.
The mistake repealed a long-standing exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime pay requirements for such employees, subjecting them to U.S. Department of Labor regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) for the first time, including its overtime provision.
Now, businesses of all sizes not only must pay overtime, but also are exposed to costly lawsuits for retroactive overtime pay dating back to August 10, 2005, when SAFETEA-LU was signed into law.
The SFA is leading a coalition of groups seeking to restore the motor carrier exemption, and both McCarthy and SFA transportation advisor Earl Eisenhart have been meeting with key legislators and staff as part of this effort.
“We have a big hill to climb,” said McCarthy, noting that organized labor is strongly against restoring the status quo. “But we will do everything we can to get some relief for our members before Congress adjourns later this year.”
Hours-of-Service Changes
Meanwhile, as reported last month, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has issued an order vacating two key portions of the federal hours-of-service regulations: the increase of the daily driving limit from 10 hours to 11 and the 34-hour “restart” option for weekly on-duty limits.
As this issue went to press, the SFA urged all members to contact the U.S. Department of Transportation and ask the agency to file a petition with the court seeking a stay of its order.
 “The loss of these provisions could have a considerable impact on fleet operations,” Eisenhart said. “Many snack food delivery operations have taken advantage of the “restart” provision to partially ameliorate the overall negative impact of the rules on fleet productivity.”
 The court’s mandate will become effective unless the order is stayed.
Fleet Fees Imposed
On another important matter resulting in higher costs for fleets, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final regulation August 24 establishing fees that private and for-hire motor carriers must pay under the Unified Carrier Registration Plan and Agreement. Carriers must select a base state and pay fees to that state according to their fleet size. Fees are as follows:
• 0-2 vehicles — $39
• 3-5 vehicles — $116
• 6-20 vehicles — $231
• 21-100 vehicles — $806
• 101-1000 vehicles— $3,840
• 1001 vehicles and above — $37,500

The new fees are intended to replace revenue states lost when the Single State Registration Plan was repealed by Congress in 2005.