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.

Our “do nothing” Congress, as some call it, has less than two months left on its legislative calendar until they break for the long December holidays and then they reconvene in January for what will surely be a very exciting election year. While impeachment proceedings, trade deals and foreign affairs continue to make daily headlines, for the food industry SNAP and HEMP issues take center stage this month along with a number of miscellaneous issues that have kept our friends at the Food and Drug Administration  and the U.S. Department of Agriculture very busy as part of their food policy and regulatory responsibilities.

More SNAP Cuts Coming?

The Trump administration and the Republicans are just not giving up on finding ways to cut back on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Politico has reported that the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which is overseen by USDA, has now proposed another way to curtail SNAP spending. It gets complicated so follow along. FNS wants to reign in the way states allow SNAP recipients to deduct some utility expenses to quality for SNAP benefits. FNS says there is a patchwork of outdated approaches states currently use when they figure how household utilities factor into what’s known as the SNAP Standard Utility Allowances. USDA estimates that the changes it is proposing could decrease SNAP spending by $5 billion over a five-year period.

Advertisement

USDA is now saying that by adopting the household utility proposed changes, about 16 percent of households would actually see an increase in their monthly SNAP benefits while 19 percent would see a decrease. The new proposed rule is the Trump administration’s third such effort to cut SNAP benefits through the regulatory process. There are still two other proposed changes being debated that would take SNAP away from nearly 4 million people!

Wait – there is more to the story. USDA nutrition officials were also on the Hill last month to testify at a House hearing on yet another proposal to cut back on so-called broad-based SNAP categorical eligibility – a move expected to cut kids’ access to free school meals. House Democrats continue to rake Republicans over the coals on cutbacks to SNAP benefits and have launched a coordinated messaging blitz on social media. USDA is now estimating that about 982,000 low-income students would no longer automatically qualify for free meals under their new proposed rule. Politico reported that is nearly twice the number USDA had initially stated when the rule was first rolled out this past summer. “After waiting months for this analysis, we now have learned that this rule will be even worse for students and families than we originally understood,” Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) said recently at a House hearing on the proposal. At press time, the official comment period was still open for input on the proposed changes. We will keep you informed as all this gets ironed out.

HEMP Update

Advertisement

If you’ve been on Mars for the past year, you are excused from not knowing about hemp. I first wrote about it earlier this year when a number of retailers began merchandising hemp induced products including health and beauty care items as well as food items induced with hemp. Passage of the 2018 farm bill declassified the plant as a controlled drug and opened the floodgates for nationwide industrial production. The folks at USDA and FDA are set to unveil broad regulations for hemp production and ingredient usage very soon. And the food industry just cannot wait.

To demonstrate to you how popular hemp issues have become on the Hill, Politico reported that in 2010, hemp was listed on federal lobbying disclosure forms just two times by lobbying firms. So far in 2019, 72 disclosure forms have listed hemp as a covered issue for reporting lobbying activity. Lobbyists have been hard at work educating hill staffers about the basics of the plant and its lucrative potential for farmers, manufacturers, retailers and consumers.

Aside from the lobbying end of the hemp issue, trade associations are also tackling the hemp industry representation on the Hill as well as at the state levels. The biggest spender according to Politico is the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, whose priorities include helping states set up their own hemp programs and pressing the FDA to issue guidance on cannabidiol, the hemp-derived substance that’s booming in its own right. It is predicted that the industry could be valued at $26 billion by 2025! I’ll have some tea with a bit of hemp please!

FDA Food Safety Dashboard

FDA has launched a new Food Safety Dashboard as part of its FDA-TRACK program. The Dashboard is designed to track the impact and measure the progress of the FDA’s seven Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules by recognizing that ensuring the safety of both our human and animal food supply is a shared responsibility among many different parties at various points in the global supply chain. The FSMA rules outline specific action the food industry must take at each point to prevent contamination. For you food safety professionals, it is worth going to www.fda.gov to check out the “FDA-Track: Food Safety Dashboard” initiative.

And while on the subject of food safety, the FDA has now released its “Draft Guidance for Industry: Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food,” which provides assistance to food facilities on how to establish and implement a written recall plan. FDA has also released a list of records needed by importers who participate in its Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). These records are required and can be inspected by FDA to verify that the food being imported has been produced in a manner that meets U.S. food safety standards.

More Taxes on Sugary Beverages?

Last month the Washington Post reported that the D.C. City Council is getting ready to institute a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax, the highest in the country, on sweetened drinks, including Gatorade, sweetened iced coffee and tea and even orange juice. The tax will not be applied to artificially sweetened drinks. The additional revenue to the D.C. treasury will be used to increase access to healthy food, childcare and better parks.

A majority of the city council supports the tax according to the Post article. The proposed tax is on par with the city of Philadelphia’s tax and if passed by the D.C. council, it would replace the ramped-up sales tax the city recently approved for soft drinks.

Name Changes

I’ve been around a long time and remember when the Food Marketing Institute name was first formed in 1977. FMI’s name was derived from a merger of the National Association of Food Chains (NAFC) and the Super Market Institute (SMI). And I also recall when the National Grocers Association was the National American Retail Grocers of the U.S. (NARGUS) and merged with the Cooperative Food Distributors of America (CFDA) in the early 1980s before becoming NGA. Now another name change is coming to a very well-known association – the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

GMA has announced that at the end of this year, it is changing its name to the Consumer Brands Association, a shakeup that Politico reported came after the group suffered a mass exodus of members over policy disagreements. “The rebrand is simply the last step in better understanding who we are and what our opportunities are going forward,” Geoff Freeman, GMA president and CEO said. He added that the name Grocery Manufacturers Association was too narrow to represent the group going forward. Politico reported that the new name is a clear signal that the group will concentrate on the broader consumer packaged goods industry. Freeman said that a list of new members will be announced in January when the re-named trade association officially launches its new name.

 

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