When 2015 began, most Washington, D.C. observers predicted more gridlock in Washington. Despite a strong election for Republicans in November 2014, President Obama made it clear that he would not back down from an aggressive regulatory agenda. Everyone agreed that the likelihood of any major legislative initiatives were pretty bleak.
Despite these expectations, 2015 brought a wave of significant legislative and regulatory victories for bakers. The American Bakers Association (ABA), with the strong support of its allies in Congress, secured a number of vitally important provisions in Congress’ year-end omnibus bill. Additionally, ABA achieved wins throughout the year on key regulatory priorities. These achievements were a direct result of strong ABA member engagement, the right champions in Congress, and understanding the economic impact on ABA members.
In the ultimate policy combo platter, ABA secured a three-year phase-out of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) due to the intense education of FDA officials on the practical implications of an immediate ban. Despite ABA’s urging, however, FDA neglected to close a potential litigation loophole during the phase-out period. ABA secured a provision in the omnibus closing the loophole and protecting bakers from multimillion-dollar lawsuits.
With the highly controversial “Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee” addressing topics such as sustainable agriculture, food taxes and a host of issues outside the Advisory Committee’s scope, ABA led a broad food-industry coalition to ensure the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is based on the best scientific and nutritional science. The just-released guidelines, the culmination of a three-year effort in support of grain foods, are an improvement. Using the expertise of the Grain Foods Foundation’s (GFF) scientific advisory board, ABA led the so-called “grain chain” to protect the number of grain servings and the important role of both enriched and whole grains in the diet.
Other provisions in the omnibus included flexibility from the Department of Transportation’s Hours of Service 34-hour restart rules, allowing bakers’ finely tuned distribution networks to remain both efficient and safe. This, coupled with relief from excise taxes on the industry’s natural gas- and propane-fueled vehicles, will bring bakers significant savings.
ABA also was able to successfully remediate the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ruling in support of Canada and Mexico and against the United States’ Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat and fish products. The WTO ruling allowed Canada and Mexico to seek 100 percent tariffs on U.S. food products, including finished baked goods and ingredients. ABA educated members of Congress on the potential loss of business for bakers, and Congress included a repeal of COOL in the omnibus.
Not all of ABA’s achievements were tied up in the omnibus spending package. Bakers also secured key tax provisions at the end of the year, such as the delay of the employee benefits tax, also known as the “Cadillac Tax.” Also included in the tax package was making the research-and-development tax credit and the capital expenditure deductions permanent.
As successful a year as 2015 was for ABA, it did not accomplish one major priority: a national, voluntary GMO-labeling requirement to supersede a patchwork of state requirements. Despite an all-out effort by a coalition led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, time expired before it could achieve success. ABA will continue to push for relief in 2016.
But our work is not done. ABA hit 2016 running and is hoping to accomplish several priorities. So stay tuned, we’re in store for another busy year.