LEGISLATIVE LINE

Barry Scher is a government and retail consultant with Policy Solutions LLC. He is a 42-year veteran of Giant/Landover, where he held several key positions, including Vice President of Corporate Public Affairs. He can be reached at bscher@policy-solutions.net.

Congress may be on its summer break, but the machinery of government continues to change gears albeit slowly until our lawmakers are back in town after Labor Day. The Hill’s “power behind the throne” staff, however, continues to work hard to carry out the wishes of their Senators and House members. One issue in particular that is of major importance to our food industry is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or what is still referred to by us old timers as “food stamps.” There is a lot of new information coming out of Washington as the Trump administration continues to try to rein in broad-based categorical eligibility of SNAP.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced late last month a new proposed rule to crackdown on SNAP eligibility. The proposed rule provides for a 60-day comment period, so anticipate more debate and possible legislative or regulatory action in the early fall. While Democrats are generally opposed to the proposed rule, Republicans support changes and even a lengthy, recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal chimed in to say the time has come for some needed SNAP reforms. The proposed changes to SNAP will impact millions of recipients by pushing them off food stamps. At this time, about 40 million low-income people received SNAP benefits in 2018. Of that number, about 3 million people that reside in 43 states are routinely granted automatic eligibility for SNAP but are also receiving other government food subsidy benefits. Double dipping? Thus, the intent of the new rule is to ensure that recipients are treated equally across ALL states.

USDA says that the proposed SNAP changes will save taxpayers $9.4 billion over five years. For the food industry, the proposed rule may mean food stores will lose $3 billion annually in sales, according to USDA’s analysis. Politico reported that for a small food retailer, the potential benefit loss might make up less than 5 percent of their typical SNAP sales. Stay tuned!

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Plant-Based Meat Substitute Labeling

New national TV network advertisements sponsored by Burger King are touting the availability of plant-based meat that is more affordable and accessible, and democratizing the alternative protein revolution. And in a related matter, the New York Times ran an extensive story at the end of July on the labeling battle between the traditional livestock-based meat industry and new, plant-based meat alternatives. The meat industry has witnessed the decline of the dairy industry (real milk versus soy alternatives) within their industry in the face of competition from plant-based alternatives and as I’ve previously reported, has vowed to prevent the same from happening to them. The meat industry is flexing its political muscles by having livestock friendly legislators introduce legislation in 24 states to restrict the use of meat terms – meat, burgers, steak, etc. – in labeling plant-based alternatives. Manufacturers of plant-based substitutes, with the help of the Good Food Institute, the Plant-Based Food Association, the ACLU and the Institute for Justice, are fighting back in the courts, accusing the state laws of violating their 1st and 14th Amendment rights. Stay tuned, this battle is just beginning. Oh, did I mention that Beyond Meat is developing a plant-based BACON substitute? This new technology is not a fad, ladies and gentlemen! It’s here to stay!

Cereal Makers Impact The Environment

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FOOD Navigator-USA reports that the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has published a study, “Champions of Breakfast,” that calls upon General Mills, Kellogg, Post and Quaker Foods to use their market leverage in buying grain to push grain farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices more quickly to help the environment. UCS argues that growing grain, which is extensive in the U.S., “is highly damaging to the environment. And it is a significant cause of water pollution, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and heat-trapping emissions.” The study suggests that slight changes in sourcing standards for specific grains by the four cereal giants could have a dramatic, positive impact on the environment. This is another example of agriculture being singled out more and more as a major environmental player.

In my column last month, I highlighted my personal observations on climate change after attending a Smithsonian Environmental Research Center lecture in Edgewater, MD. Now the United Nations has issued a warning, one that I previously said was coming, of mass food insecurity from climate change. The report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released just weeks ago according to Politico, laid out a dire future for the agriculture industry if climate change isn’t adequately addressed. Rising temperatures will intensify droughts, floods and heat waves (we sure did experience all three over the past few months in the U.S. alone) and at the same time, we will experience soil loss and degradation, according to the report. It also found climate change is leading to decreased yields and lost land from erosion. Researchers cited the industrial agriculture industry as a major contributor to rising greenhouse gases, pointing to methane emissions from livestock and draining of wetlands.

Evidence Of Sesame Allergies

The FDA Law Blog reports that new evidence of widespread, severe sesame allergies in the U.S. could convince the agency to add sesame to the list of major food allergens that must be declared on food labels. A new story, “Prevalence and Severity of Sesame Allergy in the United States,” published in JAMA Network Open, finds that 2.6 million people or 0.83 percent of the U.S. population have a sesame allergy.

Food Packaging

Politico’s Morning Agriculture reported that Chemours, a chemical firm that makes Teflon, has announced that it has stopped making nonstick coatings used in food packaging. It had made three products containing PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of man-made chemicals) used in food packaging to resist oil and grease. The use of PFAS in food packaging had been approved in the past by FDA, but the agency recently announced that it was going to review its approvals considering new evidence that suggests these chemicals may be dangerous.

CBD Infused Beverages Delayed

We at Policy Solutions LLC continue to follow CBD issues for our clients. Recently, FOOD Navigator-USA reported that New Age Beverages of Colorado has delayed the introduction of its Marley brand CBD infused beverages because of the “regulatory uncertainty over CBD.” The FDA has been very clear that CBD infused food and beverages cannot be sold legally in interstate commerce.

 

FDA Boot Camp

It still is not too late to sign up to attend the American Conference Institute’s popular ”FDA Boot Camp” – now in its 34th iteration and slated for September 18-19 at the Bostonian Hotel in Boston. The conference is billed as the premier event to provide attendees with a roadmap to navigate the difficult terrain of FDA regulatory law. Let your food safety people know of this upcoming seminar.

You can find out more information and register by contacting ACI at 888.224.2480 customerservice@americanconference.com.

Back To Work

Congress will soon be back from its summer break and there will be lots of activity on the Hill to decipher. And with the elections not that far off, there promises to be lots of heightened interest in new laws and regulations to win over voters. If we can be of assistance to you as you try to get through the “smokescreens,” drop me a note. We have tremendous contacts on the Hill to help you and your business.

Barry Scher is associated with the public policy firm of Policy-Solutions LLC and may be reached at Bscher@policy-solutions.net.