Congress is on a long break that ends later this month. There should be a law that lawmakers have to spend at least a day or two of their vacation studying the real-world impact of their legislation. If so, many would have to serve that time in supermarkets to see how legislative and regulatory moves play out in the aisles.
In this issue of SN, you'll find a number of stories about the interplay of retailers and government, including a story on Page 1 about the industry's 2006 legislative agenda and a story on Page 21 about the impact of governmental moves on pharmacies.
It seems that government is asking more of retailers lately. Retailers are increasingly being thrust into the role of educating consumers about new regulations, such as those involving food labeling. They are also bearing the costs of enacting new programs and handling record-keeping, costs that will ultimately be passed on to consumers. Retailers are also faced with laws from various governmental levels that conflict with one another.
What are some of the recent examples of challenges along these lines?
Last week, SN reported on newly implemented 2006 federal food labeling requirements for trans fatty acids that are generating confusion among consumers. A big problem is that consumers can't understand why the new rules allow packages to claim no trans fat but still incorporate partially hydrogenated oils as an ingredient. Store nutritionists are finding themselves in the role of educating shoppers about the rules and the topic in general. For instance, Hy-Vee created a brochure on trans fats and an Ingles dietitian has given consumer talks on the subject.
Also last week, SN outlined how retailers were handling the launch of the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program. Store pharmacies were facing everything from government computer system delays to backlogs at insurance companies, which must verify eligibility of consumers. Store pharmacists, not surprisingly, went to heroic measures to help things go smoothly, making sure customers left the stores with ample supplies of critical medications.
Supermarkets are also under pressure from the debate over cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold medicines but also an ingredient in the illegal drug methamphetamine. More than two dozen states, in addition to other localities, have passed measures that vary widely in their level of restrictions, including requirements to sell the medications only from behind pharmacy counters. The Food Marketing Institute is looking for Congress to pass the House-Senate compromise, which allows supermarkets without pharmacies to still sell the products, noted John Motley, FMI senior vice president of government and public affairs.
The industry works to smooth out problems with government ahead of time, but last year FMI had to push to successfully reverse or mitigate some burdensome recordkeeping requirements, Motley noted. In 2006 the industry will again do its best to relay to lawmakers and regulators the real-world impact of their actions. Let's hope government is listening.