SFA Members Take Their Issues & Concerns to Capitol Hill in SFA’s 2014 Legislative Summit

Members Discuss Key Issues Facing the Snack Food Industry with U.S. Congress

April 11, 2014

SFA members take their issues and concerns to capital hill_4.10.14.jpgSome 35 snack food industry executives from across the nation attended SFA’s 2014 Legislative Summit in Washington April 9 and 10, meeting face-to-face with 67 U.S. senators, members of the House of Representatives and staff to express their views about key issues affecting their companies and the industry.

“It was a fabulous day,” said SFA President & CEO Tom Dempsey at an evening reception April 9 following the jam-packed agenda of discussions with lawmakers. “We had a tremendous turnout of SFA members, a number of first timers, and our message was heard loud and clear across Capitol Hill.”

News was made April 9 on one of SFA’s top concerns as Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014, which would establish a federal voluntary labeling standard for food and beverage products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Supported by SFA, the bill would give the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over labeling of GMO food and beverage ingredients, superseding state requirements. In 2013, at least 26 states have proposed legislation that would require food products made from GMOs to be labeled. Under the Pompeo bill, GMO-free products could be labeled as such; there would be no requirement to label products containing GMOs. Pompeo said he expects subcommittee hearings sometime in June.

“The problem is the potential patchwork of 26 states having their own, possibly conflicting requirements,” said Dempsey. “Why do we have to label it at all? But from a commerce standpoint, it would be a killer if we don’t enact this law on the federal level.”

In their meetings with lawmakers, snack executives emphasized that because their companies distribute their products across state lines it would be impossible to create packages with differing messages to comply with individual state mandates.

That message seemed to resonate with many lawmakers. “I am not interested in state-by-state labeling,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “The problem is that you start labeling and people think they have something to fear.” Better consumer messaging is needed, she said, adding, “people don’t understand.”

Joel Leftwich, senior director of public policy and government affairs for PepsiCo, Inc., agreed that the industry must improve consumer education on the topic.

Industry executives thanked Stabenow for her help in preventing in the new Farm Bill proposed food product purchasing restrictions in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). SFA opposed proposals to limit choice in SNAP. “I think we’re in good shape on this,” Stabenow told Leftwich, Mark Winkelman, president, Better Made Snack Foods, Inc., Detroit, the company’s vice president, Philip Gusmano, and Richard Martinelli, senior representative, government affairs, PepsiCo, Inc. However, she noted the need for funding for SNAP and urged industry support.

In a kickoff speech as the day began, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA) predicted Republicans would take control of the Senate in November. This, he said, would make it easier for Congress to sidetrack the National Labor Relations Board’s proposed “ambush” election rule that would reduce from 42 to 10 days the time allotted to employers to counter proposed unionization elections in the workplace.

“We need to have a reasonable time to convey our points,” Mike Harper, chief financial officer and vice president of finance at Rudolph Foods Company, Inc., Dallas, TX, told a legislative staffer for Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Such restrictions, he said, are “un-American.”

“I think there is a better than even chance that Republicans will take control of the Senate and things will be run differently,” Toomey said. “They trot out one bill after another that are all about income and equality and that sort of nonsense. I am optimistic there will be a totally different environment next year.”

Noting that reform of the sugar program is one of SFA’s legislative priorities, Toomey said it is “one of the most indefensible programs in a town loaded with indefensible programs,” and that for every job it protects in the sugar production industry, three others are destroyed in industries that rely on sugar products.

But Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), in a meeting with Dempsey, Fritz Kohmann, chief financial officer at Shearer’s Foods, Massillon, OH and lobbyist Sarah Hubbert, Torrey & Associates, Washington, DC, cautioned that sugar price supports help to assure domestic sugar production and provide for stable prices. “We’ve got to be careful in how we handle this,” he said.

Gibbs supported SFA’s other key legislative objectives, and said he appreciated being able to tour the Shearer’s Massillon production facility, where a new production line is being installed. Kohmann said the company had just acquired Medallion Foods in Arkansas, bringing to six its number of plants, and that additional staff will be hired in Ohio.

Meeting with Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) were Utz Quality Foods, Inc., Hanover, PA executives Jeff Martin, senior vice president, business development; Todd Staub, senior vice president and chief financial officer, and Chuck Tullis, vice president, corporate brands.

Vitter said he was “looking at” proposals to roll back the new drivers hours of service regulation imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which SFA opposes because it imposes unreasonable constraints on companies’ ability to safely and effectively utilize their driver workforce.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) told industry executives from his state that he supports efforts to reduce the impact of biofuels on food costs, including reforms to the Renewable Fuel Standards. “That is a critical issue,” Marino said. “It’s making life miserable for my farmers. Biofuels are not what they are cracked up to be.”

Marino defended his legislation that would require retailers to report non-food products sold to SNAP recipients, a proposal that has been opposed by SFA and other industry groups. “I wanted to know where the $84 billion is being spent,” said Marino, explaining that his goal is to uncover fraudulent purchases and unlawful purchases of non-food products, such as cigarettes or beer, with SNAP benefits.

Attending that meeting were Craig Hatfield, vice president, sales, and Sean Shanley, sales representative, Bryce Corporation, Lake Ariel, PA; Daryl Thomas, senior vice president of sales & marketing, Herr Foods Inc., Nottingham, PA; and David Cantrell, national sales manager, Land O’Lakes Global Dairy Solutions, Austin, TX.

Also on the list of issues discussed in the Summit meetings were:

  • Opposition to proposed FDA user fees;
  • Restrictions on the use of independent contractors through efforts to classify them as employees, an inaccurate definition since these small business people are not employees, but individual entrepreneurs who purchase and then distribute snack products.
  • Removal of partially hydrogenated oils from the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list by the FDA. Industry executives cautioned this could lead to the “devastating” result of also removing salt and sugar from that list.

Closing the day’s events were Tres Bailey, director of federal government relations, Walmart, who stressed that his company shares the same issues with SFA and that it is working hard on Capitol Hill with its team of lobbyists to address those concerns. He pointed out that 56 percent of Walmart’s revenue is derived from food sales.

Rep. James Jordan (R-OH), was the closing speaker, and stressed the importance of industry executives coming to Washington to meet with their lawmakers. Jordan also met with a group of industry executives from Ohio in his office and expressed support for SFA’s position on the issues.

“It was definitely worth my while,” said Cantrell following the long day of meetings. “I felt like I had a direct influence and that my voice was heard.”           

“I thought our issues that we went over were very well received,” added Hatfield. “The people we met with were very engaged.”

Trade Benson, chief financial officer at Old Dutch Foods, Roseville, MN, attended the SFA Legislative Summit for the first time, and was impressed. “It was a great experience and a great opportunity to network with staff members and lawmakers. Now I will feel comfortable about calling when I have a concern. I always do better when I know the people I’m dealing with.”

This site uses cookies. Some of the cookies we use are essential for parts of the site to operate and have already been set. You may delete and block all cookies from this site, but parts of the site will not work. View our Privacy Policy.