If you’ve been watching the activity surrounding the U.S. Congress’ consideration of federal food safety reform legislation, then you’ve seen a textbook example of how complex the legislative process can become.

Industry should continue to speak up on food safety

Mike O'Brien
Schnuck Markets

During a lame duck session, it took cloture to limit debate so the Senate could vote on the legislation, then a so-called “blue slip” constitutional issue regarding taxing authority nearly killed the bill’s chances in the House of Representatives.

Now approved by the House, as of this writing the bill is awaiting final Senate action to fix the blue slip issue. (For the details, visit PMA.com or read our Field to Fork blog.)

As complex as developments have been in the last couple of weeks, one thing is clear. Now more than ever, it is vital that our industry is seen and heard on the subject of food safety, from the halls of Congress to the White House to the various agencies.

Food safety is the hottest topic facing our industry right now, as evidenced by this Congress’ attention.

Industry should continue to speak up on food safety

Tom O'Brien
Produce Marketing Association

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is developing beefed-up food safety regulations — including produce-specific ones — whether or not Congress passes new legislation.

Should Congress finish its work, the agency will then incorporate regulations to implement the legislation into its ongoing efforts. So, one way or another, new rules are coming.

Further, FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yield considerable power over our industry’s markets in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak and investigation.

Government is having an increasing effect on our industry’s business — there’s no denying or changing that — so our goal then is to promote the smarter governance our businesses need. PMA’s focus for some time now has been on building relationships and educating governmental influencers about the intricacies of our industry and our regulatory needs.

For example, since Congress first began considering food safety legislation, our staff and many volunteer leaders have been walking the halls of Congress, meeting with representatives, senators and committee staff to explain what the produce industry is doing to enhance food safety and what our specific needs are.

We have also been regular visitors at FDA and CDC, and we’ve asked our members to communicate with their legislators on several occasions.

These conversations don’t always make the headlines, but they are essential to building strong relationships, understanding, and impact with the people making the rules for our industry.

As of this writing it remains to be seen whether food safety reform legislation will pass in this Congress, or whether the language that exempts some businesses for reasons not based on science or risk will stand.

Having originally vocally supported the Senate bill before these exemptions were added, in the days ahead we’ll continue our work to explain why we think they aren’t in the best interests of consumers — and will actually reduce the market potential of the producers they are trying to protect.

PMA stands ready to work with FDA to implement regulations that will offer consumers the protection they deserve and expect, so that we can continue the work of improving consumer confidence in the safety of our products and ensure a level playing field on food safety.

Meanwhile, earlier this month Congress reauthorized child nutrition laws, including several provisions actively supported by produce industry leaders such as PMA.

These included increased reimbursement for school meals, improvements in the nutritional value of those meals, and new nutritional standards for food sold outside school meals (aka competitive foods).

That’s good news for our nation’s youth and our industry alike.

While things can move quickly in Washington, D.C., one thing remains the same.

At the end of the day, government relations works best when your legislators hear from you, their constituents.

If you aren’t already a member of your trade group(s)’ grassroots network — including PMA’s GROW — then join today, and answer our calls to action promptly when they come.

And don’t settle for just writing letters. Call them, or meet with them in their district offices at home, to share your story.

Invite them to see your operations and experience firsthand your company’s commitment to food safety, and to public health and consumer confidence. That’s a destination that best serves everyone — onsumers, industry and government alike.

Mike O’Brien is vice president of produce and floral for Schnuck Markets, St. Louis. He is chairman of PMA’s government relations committee in addition to serving as PMA’s chairman of its board of directors. Tom O’Brien is PMA’s representative in Washington, D.C. They are not related.

How is your company speaking up about food safety efforts? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.