INSIGHTS: THE LONG WAIT FOR FOOD SAFETY MODERNIZATION
President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (H.R. 2751) into law on January 4, 2011, but two and half years later is our food any safer? A folksy video posted on the FDA website vividly explained the need for the 2011 bill in these terms:
“The last major update to our food safety laws was way back in 1938, and a lot has changed since then. Our food now often travels more than we do. It arrives from farms and facilities across town or around the world, on trains, ships and trucks. At the same time, pathogens are changing, adapting, and sometimes becoming stronger and harder to defeat. At any point from farm to table, pathogens such as Salmonella, E. Coli or Listeria can catch a ride, and spread to virtually any food. And people are living longer, and with chronic disease, making them more susceptible to food-borne illness. For these reasons, we need a Food Safety system for the Twenty-First Century.”
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 was intended to shift the emphasis from reaction to prevention of food safety issues, by requiring mandatory preventive controls for food facilities, mandatory produce safety standards, and protections against the importation of unsafe food products. Further, the FSMA gave the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) stronger tools in terms of mandated inspection frequency, records access, accreditation of testing laboratories, and when all else fails, authority to mandate recalls of unsafe product. These were all well-conceived policy changes, driven by the highly-regarded FDA head, Dr. Margaret Hamburg. Unfortunately, the FDA has been dragging its heels in creating and implementing the specific new rules needed to gain the desired benefits of the new law, so our food safety has actually not been improved – even 30 months after the law was passed.
In April of this year, ruling on a case brought by the Center for Food Safety, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton “chided the FDA for ‘admittedly’ failing to comply with the mandatory rule-making schedule contained in the FSMA,” as reported by the “Food Safety News.” In July, 2013 the FDA finally did issue proposed rules for Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) and Accreditation of Third Party Auditors. Rules still need to be issued by the FDA for Preventive Controls for Animal Feed, Sanitary Transportation and International Contamination. The FDA’s slowness in issuing the rules is likely due to their being underfunded, and also an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) decision to “keep the rules under wraps for the entire 2012 election year,” as reported by “Food Safety News.”
Just months after he was first elected president, President Obama spoke of the importance of improving food safety in his weekly speech to the nation in March, 2009: “There are certain things only a government can do, and one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat, and the medicines we take, are safe and do not cause us harm.” At that time, Obama said he would ask Congress for a billion dollars in new funds to add inspectors and modernize laboratories, explaining that he found it unacceptable that only five percent of the nation’s 150,000 food plants are inspected each year. He cited (according to the “Washington Post”) that outbreaks of illness from contaminated food had risen from 100 a year in the 1990’s to 350 a year. Unfortunately, Obama’s forceful speech did not jog the necessary money loose from Congress then, and sequestration makes attaining that level of additional funding even more problematic now.
Chuck Mitman, a co-founder of Prism eSolutions, a leading food quality consultancy says “the way this was rolled out is unfortunate, as the FDA had a compelling opportunity to start fresh and establish credibility for FSMA by adhering to the original deadlines in the bill. Instead, there is an industry perception that it now smacks of ‘business as usual’ and companies that have been ‘rolling the dice’ on compliance may continue to do so. The hope for a new culture of compliance that could have been an outcome is now threatened.”
Mitman goes on to make the point that “compliance is something you have to do… [but] it can [also] have a value… as a competitive differentiator for companies that are growing.“ He also notes that “an openness to new technologies can enhance and make more affordable the robust processes needed for sustainable food safety and quality as outlined by FSMA.”
Based on my own practice as a consultant to the food industry, I can see that the new rules will likely have the biggest impact and prove most challenging for small food businesses, as they are often neither familiar with key food safety rules nor prepared for more stringent oversight. Hopefully, with the influence of the Food Safety Modernization Act, an increasing percentage of the co-manufacturers that these entrepreneurs turn to will be fully compliant with the FSMA, and these business owners will become well-educated enough to ask the right questions of their co-manufacturer relating to food safety.
ON THE ECONOMY: THE ART OF LOBBYING
Well the dawn was coming, heard him ringing on my bell. He said, `My name’s the teacher, that is what I call myself. And I have a lesson that I must impart to you. It’s an old expression, but I must insist it’s true. So starts Jethro Tull’s Teacher, a song from the band’s third album Benefit released in April 1970. I’m writing this from the Public Affairs Council’s State and Local Government Affairs Conference, where both old and new government affairs professionals are learning new practices from their peers. The conference got me thinking about an old article by Scott Proudfoot, from the Canadian firm Hillwatch.com that I think made some excellent points about lobbying and how to be a successful government affairs professional. I’m borrowing from that article for my Manifesto column.
According to Proudfoot, lobbying’s intent is to make dealing with big government a manageable, predictable and productive process and no matter how good a government affairs team, the government itself will always be the largest player in the game. Those who understand that their real competition is not other companies, not antis, not other associations, but the government itself, will see the best results.
Proudfoot goes on to suggest that at their best, lobbying campaigns introduce dialogue and clarity into this unequal relationship, and at their worst, they bring self-serving distortion into the public debate. This is a very important idea – one that I learned very well working in the tobacco industry. In the end, lobbying is about promoting someone else’s needs, not those of your company or client.
In the article, Proudfoot discusses 11 elements of successful lobbying. While I agree with him, I think that three of his concepts are by far the most important. These are:
Having a Good Position: A successful campaign will demonstrate that the lobbyist’s particular interest serves the broader public good. While this position must reflect the organizational needs of the lobbying party, it is essential that whatever one is advocating for (or against) must make sense and not be completely self serving. For example, we use economic impact analysis as a way to demonstrate how something that promotes one business interest has impacts throughout the economy.
Coalitions: There is strength in numbers and the more organizations rally behind an issue, the stronger the overall posture with government. Outside of a trade association and business associations, a successful campaign will engage supplier trade associations, consumer groups, labor and individual constituents. Economic analysis will help organizations to identify potential coalition allies even though those connections may not be obvious at first.
Consistent Pressure: According to Proudfoot, one of the singular achievements of government is that it is perfectly designed to defuse and dissipate momentum behind worthy proposals. In addition, activist groups, legislators, and regulatory bureaucracies can propose bills and regulations out of the blue, so it is extremely important that government affairs professionals constantly maintain their data, their messages, and their models so that they can be ready to respond – and to gear up their coalitions at a moment’s notice.
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