Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress adjourned for the pre-election period. Members won't return to Washington until after the Nov. 7 election, which means it will be a lame-duck Congress when it does get back to work.
That's assuming much work will get done. Political observers express little hope that such a Congress will muster the will to take action on pending matters, some of which are of concern to the food distribution and manufacturing industries. Indeed, since the outcome of the election has the potential to change the political landscape, uncertainties about what Congress might do are much greater than usual.
"There is a lot of work that hasn't been finished. The outcome of the election will determine what kind of lame-duck session it will be," said Susan Stout, Grocery Manufacturers Association. "During this lame-duck session, there is no real reason to be terribly optimistic," said Tom Zaucha, National Grocers Association. Both were quoted in a news feature in this week's SN about Congress, as were others. See Page 1.
One pending point of interest is the effort to trim estate taxation. The tax is of concern to high-net-worth families, among them those with retailing and manufacturing interests. Some of those families have spent huge sums lobbying against the tax. The big three food-related horizontal trade associations are also active against the tax. (The three are the Food Marketing Institute and the two previously cited.) A Congressional move to cut the estate tax failed earlier this year when House Republicans endeavored to package a suite of tax breaks with an increase in the minimum wage.
Regardless of what may be in store from Congress later this year, there is another political phenomenon on the horizon that has to do with regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration. There is new fear that agencies responsible for health- and food-safety issues have been stripped of funding to the extent that they can't do what they are supposed to do. Some observers are of the opinion that the contaminated-spinach fiasco need not have happened had the FDA properly monitored growing procedures. The fear of lax regulation is building even among pressure groups that have long railed against the heavy hand of regulation on business.
Consider this: Late last month an advocacy group called the "Coalition for a Stronger FDA" was formed. Among its membership is GMA. The broad-based coalition of consumer, patient and industry groups, plus former governmental officials, asserts that FDA's funding, measured as a proportion of appropriations for other public health agencies, has fallen sharply in recent years.
Cal Dooley, GMA's CEO-elect, said in a statement that "it is in the best interest of the public, food companies and policy makers ... that FDA remains strong and can carry out its food-safety mandate as well as meet new challenges and emerging trends."
Further, all three horizontal trade associations support a bill called "National Uniformity for Food." If enacted, it would allow the FDA to impose national food-safety and food-labeling requirements. As it is, states may set their own requirements concerning product content and labeling. Many differ from state to state. The bill passed the House in March. It hasn't seen action by the Senate. We'll see if it does later this year.