The Regulatory Environment Trumps All Else in 2016

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The Regulatory Environment Trumps All Else in 2016

By Jennifer Hatcher, Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, FMI - 05/26/2016

Beyond the political rhetoric of the presidential election, 2016 has been a very active year in Washington, D.C., so far. A presidential election year leads to a condensed legislative calendar in Congress, but our policy agenda and priorities do not take a day off when Congress is out of session. In April, FMI hosted one of our most well-attended Day in Washington fly-ins in years, which brought almost 250 grocers to our nation's capital and provided a chance for them to meet with their lawmakers in Congress. The regulatory agencies have been their busiest in recent memory, pushing out final rule after rule before the current administration ends. Even before the first half of this year is over, we have seen new regulations ranging from food safety to overtime pay to nutrition labeling, and this trend is not expected to show signs of stopping anytime soon.

On May 5, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published its so-called "final" guidance on its chain restaurant menu labeling regulation, which also sets the regulation's enforcement date for May 5, 2017. The December 2014 rule requires menu labeling at chain restaurants and "similar retail food establishments," which includes grocery stores, according to the FDA. FMI has long advocated for the agency to address specific concerns with the rule's prescriptive requirements that were written for a chain restaurant establishment with menus or menu boards and do not account for the realities of a supermarket setting. As the agency continued to move forward on implementation without addressing our concerns, we have supported federal legislation (H.R. 2017/S. 2217) to modify the regulations to address these subtle but very important clarifications and allowances of flexibility. We have asked for these modifications, not as a means to exempt the industry, but to allow FMI member companies to provide their customers with the nutrition information that they want while continuing to provide a diverse lineup of fresh in-store offerings on which they depend.

FMI strongly supports enactment of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 2017/S. 2217) to make this regulation more workable in a grocery store setting. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2017 in February with a strong 266-144 bipartisan vote, and we are actively campaigning for bipartisan momentum in the Senate. FMI plays an important role on behalf of the industry to educate lawmakers and policymakers about the impact of certain policies on the operations of your businesses, but your first-hand examples and relationships with lawmakers are the most critical aspect of these efforts. To get your lawmakers to make the changes that you need, we need you to contact your lawmakers (visit Foodaction.net), invite them to your stores and tell them your stories and the challenges you face to implement the menu labeling requirements and the host of other new regulations that are making their way into your stores.

In the midst of this interminable regulatory environment, there is good news. We represent and work for an incredible industry with a far-reaching impact in communities across the country. Within that context, we will always be on the right side of any debate because we continue to serve our customers with safe, healthy, and affordable food every day.