Industry speaks out at nation's capital

by Joanie Spencer
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WASHINGTON — Bakers and industry suppliers recently joined the American Bakers Association (A.B.A.)’s Executive Leadership Development Committee (E.L.D.C.) on Capitol Hill to make their voices heard on some of the most pressing issues facing the industry.

At the E.L.D.C.’s Public Policy Forum, which took place Sept. 17-19 in Washington, attendees were there for a common goal, said Rich Scalise, chairman and chief executive officer, Hearthside Food Solutions and A.B.A. chairman.

“It’s important for bakers to be here and explain to legislators how potential legislation really affects our businesses,” he said, “and not in an esoteric way but in the real ways it affects us.”

In some respect, it’s not so much the federal legislation that’s affecting businesses as it is regulations, such as the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel. In effect, the industry is seeing a politicization of food policy, noted Robb MacKie, president and c.e.o. of the A.B.A.

When the Nutrition Label Education Act passed in the 1990s, the baking industry spent more than $100 million in new packaging costs, said Mr. MacKie. At that time there were about 10,000 food stock-keeping units (s.k.u.s) that that had to be changed; today, the food industry has triple the s.k.u.s, with the same number or fewer  packaging suppliers. In a lobby meeting with Illinois Representative Peter Roskam’s office, bakers stressed the practical implications of having to update this much packaging, without additional resources, within the proposed two-year timeframe.

Also on the labeling front, bakers took the opportunity to discuss G.M.O. labeling and the potential disruption in the supply chain should it be handled on a state-by-state basis.

“It’s not so much a problem of which way to go on G.M.O. labeling as it is consistently  in what we do,” Mr. Scalise explained to Representative Roskam’s staff. “My company could ship 250 cases of product from Ohio today, and within 48 hours, it could wind up in all 48 states in the continental U.S. The practicality of state-by-state labeling legislation can’t be done.”

The Food and Drug Administration has consistently been on the side of voluntary labeling, as long as G.M.O. products are deemed safe and affordable. And while the A.B.A. supports biotechnology with the caveat that it is deemed scientifically safe, “We also recognize there’s a sizable number of consumers that, for whatever reason, don’t want G.M.O. products,” Mr. MacKie said. “We support a dual supply chain so those consumers can have access to G.M.O.-free products. We understand consumers’ need to know. Let’s develop a national, uniform standard that covers — and helps — both sides.”

During the Legislative Summit, the A.B.A. encouraged attending bakers to follow up with legislators by inviting them, and their staffers, to visit the plants and see first-hand how regulations can affect the industry’s ability to conduct day-to-day business.
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