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 is back at work after returning in early September from its traditional six-week summer recess. Members of Congress say they have a very busy agenda. Yet our peer lobbyists on the Hill say that beyond appropriations issues, there is relatively little consensus on what may actually get accomplished before the winter holiday break. Sigh.

Issues that are now being discussed include spending measures and funding the government for fiscal year 2020, which began October 1. At press time, spending appropriation bills could end up as a stop gap measure till late November or early December as there is little appetite for another government shutdown. Then there are trade issues, gun legislation, border wall funding plus everyone is keeping an eye on next year’s elections and of course, on the impeachment proceedings. Put all that in a mixing bowl and you get the picture.

Food Issues On The “To Do” List

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 For the food industry, there are a number of major topics that Congress will be addressing before winter. Funding food and farm programs at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a top priority. Then there are discussions for ironing out the North America Free Trade Agreement. Hemp rules will get thrown into the mix. As you may recall, in my prior hemp update last month I mentioned that growers and processors have been stuck in regulatory limbo since earlier this year. And lawmakers and policy regulators are working hard to find an ethanol remedy for corn growers, biofuel producers and oil refiners who are all awaiting final details of the Renewable Rule Standard changes. Bottom line: there is lots of uncertainty on the Hill as things move slowly and that’s why it is so difficult to forecast emerging issues and outcomes especially with this administration. Need we say more?

Food Insecurity Shrinks

 Politico reported that food insecurity has shrunk to a decade-low figure. They reported that nearly 89 percent of all U.S. households were “food secure” in 2018 which meant these households did not experience difficulty feeding their clan. The 11.1 percent of households that did experience problems was the lowest reported number since 2007 and has declined rapidly since a high of almost 15 percent in 2011.

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While anti-hunger groups cheered the findings, they also warned that the current Trump Administration’s nutrition and food stamp policies have the potential to undo nearly a decade of progress. You will recall that I previously wrote about the USDA’s efforts to cut back on food stamp eligibility rules. Also chiming in on the issue, the Food Research and Action Center said, “What the nation does not need is the weakening of nutrition programs and other safety net supports that has been coming in waves of unprecedented attacks by the Trump administration.”

Beverages For Young Children

 Marketing beverages, including water, soft drinks, fruit drinks and even milk, to children has become controversial. Powerhouse organizations including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Heart Association, just to name a few, are banding together to encourage the food and manufacturing industries to think carefully about what is best for children when it comes to liquid beverages of all types.

Added sugars are out and the organizations also said that diet drinks and other beverages with little to no nutritional value were out too. So, what’s good? Kids should drink infant formula, water and plain milk, the groups touted. Our friends over at the American Beverage Association countered by saying, “We have always believed in putting fact-based information in the hands of parents so they can choose what’s best for their families.”

Dietary Guidelines News

 Note that all of the above beverage consensus advice, according to Politico, comes as the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is reviewing nutrition science to update the federal guidelines for 2020. For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines will include advice for children from birth to two years of age. I’ve previously written about the Dietary Guidelines in order to keep you informed, but don’t expect any further news till January or February after the advisory committee holds additional meetings that are on tap.

Moms Across America

 Food Navigator-USA reports that the non-profit group Moms Across America, which was founded in the wake of the defeat of Prop 37 in California to require GMO labeling, has launched a three tier “Gold Standard” certification program to identify a “safe food supply with an emphasis on eliminating GMOs and lyphosate from approved foods.” Products that receive three gold stars must be certified organic (GMO free) and glyphosate residue free. Four and five-star products must meet additional criteria like being Fair Trade products and using environment friendly packaging.

 Organics Still On Upward Trend

 And while on the subject of organics, organic farmers are expected to harvest a record 3.1 million acres of field crop this year, a 7 percent increase over 2018, according to Politico. The increase was driven partly by the growing number of certified organic operations, with the largest jump in acres concentrated in the West. More than 500 additional producers were certified compliant with USDA’s National Organic Program in 2019, bringing the total to 18,155 organic farm operations, stated Mercaris Research. All of this data provides another reason why retail food stores continue to give more space to organics. It’s a trend that we see as continuing to grow.

Labeling Uncured Meats

 The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned USDA to change the labeling rules for nitrates, nitrites and uncured meats. The petition asks USDA to prohibit the use of statements “No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” and “Uncured” on meat products that have been processed using any sources of nitrates or nitrites, including celery powder. The petition has been referred to the Office of Policy and Program Development for review.

In a related matter you should be aware of, just recently Consumer Reports published a hard-hitting critique of deli meats entitled “Danger at the Deli.” The report covered tests on 31 deli meats from turkey and chicken to roast beef and salami and found that no matter the meat tested, it was potentially dangerous to consumer health. Processed meats have been linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke and type 3 diabetes because they are cured with nitrates, loaded with sodium, prone to contamination by listeria monocytogenes and create a compound called 4-MEL, a byproduct of the caramel colors used to make them visually attractive. We at Policy Solutions believe there may just be some upcoming government hearings on processed foods.

Modernizing Food Standards

 The FDA held an important meeting at the end of September to take input from the public and others within the food industry on modernizing food standards of identity. Current standards of identity have been criticized as preventing manufacturers from developing innovative and healthier foods. The current debate over dairy-based versus plant-based food alternatives for milk, cheese and yogurt is an example of the need to clarify and modernize food standards of identity. We hear that FDA is particularly interested in changes that can be made across categories of standardized foods. More to come.

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