CHICAGO -- Despite the change in majority control of Congress, the food industry's "agenda in government remains as crowded as ever," said Bill MacAloney, chairman of the Food Marketing Institute's public affairs committee, at FMI's annual convention here.
MacAloney is president and chief executive officer of Jax Markets, a four-store independent based in Anaheim, Calif.
He said reform of tax rates remains the centerpiece of FMI's lobbying efforts. "The American people have sent a clear message that they want less government and lower taxes, and we will work to help our representatives hear that message," MacAloney said.
"We also hope to help the government understand how the regulatory climate can become incredibly onerous on business. Far too often, regulations and programs take on a life of their own and last, seemingly, forever."
MacAloney said two examples of needless government programs that handicap to food industry are regulation of cardboard balers and the Perishables Agriculture and Commodities Act, or PACA.
"The overzealous regulation of cardboard balers is largely due to enforcement of a 40-year-old law that has virtually no bearing on today's equipment. Yet retailers have been assessed punitive penalties for violations," MacAloney said.
"A second out-of-date program causing us needless problems is PACA, which was created in the 1930s to deal with business issues that have long since ceased to be concerns. Yet our industry is forced to still fund this program, even though we scarcely use it.
"We have to work to eliminate these kinds of problems and make certain that new ones don't get created."
· Estate tax relief, which "will enable us to continue our family businesses without a massive tax penalty."
· Regulations such as the mandatory ground-beef testing program in stores, "which we consider completely ineffective and totally unable to achieve the goals set down by the USDA itself."
A video segment preceding MacAloney's remarks featured comments from several retailers. They echoed some of MacAloney's sentiments about government and the industry when interviewed during FMI's public affairs assembly in Washington in March. In the video, John Shepherd, vice president of government affairs at Safeway, Oakland, Calif., said, "We just came out of a meeting with a congressman who's sponsoring a bill harmful to our industry. "He is somebody that we know very well, and he was taken aback by the fact that our industry is very concerned about this. He is now willing to redraft his bill to accommodate our industry." Rich Niemann, president and chief executive officer of Niemann Foods, Quincy, Ill., said, "Legislators are always very receptive -- they like to know what we tell them. Not that they always agree, but when they know our side, we hope we'll get better decisions." Rich Jennings, senior vice president of administration at Abco Foods, Phoenix, said, "If you're not involved, I would suggest you retire, board up the store or move to another country, because it's all over." Before introducing MacAloney, Michael Sansolo, FMI group vice president of education and industry relations, said the changes in control of Congress have not affected the federal regulatory agencies, whose priorities remain the same.
"Although both houses of Congress have passed legislation to make it harder to implement new federal regulations, the bureaucrats in charge of the agencies are unlikely to change their ways without a struggle," he said.
FMI has attempted to avoid new regulations by seeking compromises with federal agencies, Sansolo said. One such compromise was struck with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which had considered requiring supermarkets to install passive or automatic seatbelts for children on every shopping cart, Sansolo noted.
Under the compromise plan, Sansolo said the commission endorsed a voluntary program under which FMI is urging retailers to initiate in-store programs to educate parents on the safe use of carts and the importance of supervision, and is also suggesting that retailers purchase carts with seatbelts when carts needs to be replaced.
Speaking to the session on tape, Ann Brown, commission chair, said, "The Consumer Products Safety Commission has as its mission to keep people safe in their homes, and that includes children, and in their shopping carts. "I think partnership with FMI is absolutely a necessity in this matter, because we look for FMI's members to supply the seatbelts. And once seatbelts in carts are available, FMI and the commission have to work together to educate consumers as to how to use them. "We like to work voluntarily in cooperation with an industry in order to reduce the number of injuries to consumers. That's our favorite way, and this is a very good example of working cooperatively with industry." Sansolo also said FMI favors significant reform of the food stamp program "to get costs and abuse under control and to reduce the role of the federal government."
He said FMI endorses a system in which food stamps would be distributed by an electronic benefits transfer system -- a program being tested in several areas, Sansolo noted.
"As part of this reform, we support passage of a national uniformity law for EBT delivery systems," he said.