Pam Bailey took the helm at the Grocery Manufacturers Association just weeks before the largest recall in U.S. history triggered the most expansive reform of food safety policy in 50 years. Looking back on her six-month tenure as president and chief executive officer, Bailey recalls barely having time to catch her breath. “It was a lot of learning very quickly,” she told SN.
During the months since, she’s tirelessly lobbied for food safety legislation that: requires manufacturers to have a food safety plan; improves the safety of imported food; takes a risk-based approach to inspection; and gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforcement power to deal with violators of food safety laws.
“We worked continually with a coalition of other food associations throughout this process, daily, weekly, weekends, informal meetings, and I think you saw it reflected in the testimony before Congress,” Bailey said.
Her efforts helped mold the bipartisan Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 bill. She’s hopeful it will pass in the Senate before next month’s recess. “The sooner the legislation can be put in place, the sooner the FDA can start implementing its new authorities,” she said.
Recall efficacy is another of Bailey’s priorities. It was prompted when consumer confusion during the peanut-product recall led shoppers to unnecessarily avoid jars of peanut butter. “We’ve proposed to the FDA that our member companies probably have more expertise than any other industry on how to communicate with consumers,” Bailey said. “We’d like to tap into that to help the FDA improve the way they communicate with consumers when recalls occur.”
The GMA supports a Web portal designed by the Food Marketing Institute and GS1 US to expedite retailer/manufacturer communications during product recalls.
GMA is also concerned with the safety of nonfoods. It will soon engage in chemical management reform, which Congress will review for the first time since 1976. Such reform would impact chemicals in products like household cleaners, rather than foods. “Consumers need to be confident that the chemicals in their products have been reviewed,” Bailey said.
The affordability of food is another of Bailey’s concerns. “We’re very much in favor of second generation biofuels that will relieve pressure on commodities,” she noted. GMA plans to continue its work with the Senate during the coming year to promote a food-before-biofuel agenda.
The association is also inviting participation from member and non-member companies in educational webinars that focus on best manufacturing practices, like understanding the food safety practices of suppliers.
— Julie Gallagher