CHICAGO -- Supermarket operators were urged to reach out and enlist the support of both employees and consumers for the retail food industry's effort to limit government regulation, according to the Food Marketing Institute Speaks session at the FMI annual convention here.
Michael Sansolo, FMI senior vice president, called on attendees to involve the millions of people who work in the supermarket industry on behalf of the industry's governmental agenda.
Mike Read, vice president at Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, took that suggestion a step further. "We need to educate not only our employees but our customers as well on how these issues impact things like grocery prices. Then, perhaps, we'll generate enough groundswell, enough points of impact in every congressional district in the United States, to have an impact."
The issues, as outlined by Sansolo, revolve around what he termed "intrusive government regulation" of the industry.
The regulation of the retail food industry by two different, and sometimes conflicting, federal agencies: the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
He said the industry must lobby for the consolidation of food regulation into a single government agency.
"Every year we talk about the confusion the government causes us," Sansolo said. "One of the reasons for this confusion is that we have two agencies that control us.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's efforts to formulate new workplace ergonomic regulations are also of concern, said Sansolo.
He noted the OSHA's proposal that home offices must meet the same standards as traditional offices -- a regulation, he said, that would have meant the end of telecommuting -- was virtually laughed out of consideration by the media.
However, he said, a proposal with perhaps more serious implications for the supermarket industry remains under consideration.
The OSHA's proposed ergonomic standards would cost the food industry $26 billion a year at the wholesale level, according to Sansolo.
He pointed to the impracticality of just one of the rules: that supermarket cashiers would not be permitted to lift items weighing more than 15 pounds.
"What would you do with a 20-pound turkey?" he asked rhetorically. "Make the customer cook it on the checkout line and eat 5 pounds of it?"
"We're looking at some way family-owned businesses can be passed from generation to generation," he explained, "and that death not cause dissolution because the taxes are so onerous."
Sansolo noted that regular attendees of the FMI convention have no doubt heard the organization's pitch about estate taxes before.
"We've been working on estate taxes for years," he said. "The task of educating government is even more difficult than getting messages through to consumers."