When 2015 opened, most Washington observers predicted more gridlock in Washington. Despite a strong election for Republicans in November of 2014, President Obama made it clear that he would not back down from an aggressive regulatory agenda. Everyone agreed that the likelihood of any major legislative initiatives were pretty bleak.
Despite these headwinds, 2015 brought a wave of significant legislative and regulatory victories for bakers. ABA, with the strong support of its allies in Congress, secured a number of vitally important provisions in Congress’ year-end omnibus bill. Additionally, ABA achieved wins throughout the year on key regulatory priorities. These achievements were a direct result of strong ABA member engagement, the right champions in Congress, and understanding the economic impact on ABA members.
In the ultimate policy combo platter, ABA secured a three-year phase-out of Partially Hydrogenated Oils due to the intense education of FDA officials on the practical implications of an immediate ban. Despite ABA’s urging, however, FDA neglected to close a potential litigation loophole during the phase out period. ABA secured a provision in the omnibus closing the loophole and protecting bakers from multi-million dollar lawsuits.
With the highly controversial Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report addressing topics such as sustainable agriculture, food taxes and a host of issues outside the Committee’s scope, ABA led a broad food industry coalition to ensure the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were based on the best scientific and nutritional science.
The just released guidelines, the culmination of a three-year effort in support of grain foods, were an improvement. Utilizing the expertise of the Grain Foods Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee, ABA led the so-called grain chain to protect the number of grain servings and the important role of both enriched and whole grains in the diet.
Other provisions in the omnibus included flexibility from the DOT Hours of Service 34-hour restart rules. This allows bakers’ finely tuned distribution networks to remain both efficient and safe. This coupled with the relief from excise taxes on the industry’s natural gas and propane fueled vehicles will bring bakers significant savings.
ABA also was able to successfully remediate the World Trade Organization’s ruling in support of Canada and Mexico against the U.S.’s Country of Origin Labeling for meat and fish products. The WTO ruling allowed Canada and Mexico to seek 100% tariffs on U.S. food products including finished baked goods and ingredients. Despite coming late in year, ABA educated Members of Congress on the potential loss of business for bakers that Congress included a repeal of COOL in the omnibus beating the retaliation deadline by hours.
Not all of ABA’s achievements were tied up in the omnibus spending package. Bakers also secured key tax provisions at the end of the year, such as the delay of the employee benefits tax, also known as the ‘Cadillac’ tax. This pushes the issue into the next administration where broad changes, including replacements, to Obamacare could be considered. Also included in the tax package was making the research and development tax credit and the capital expenditure deductions permanent.
As successful a year as 2015 was for ABA, we did not accomplish one major priority –a national voluntary GMO labeling requirement to supersede a patchwork of state requirements. Despite an all-out effort by the broad food industry coalition led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, time expired before we could achieve success. ABA will continue to push for relief in 2016.
These achievements were no accident. Bringing bakers and suppliers together and sharing our stories, we were able to break through the gridlock and address the industry’s priorities. There was no better illustration than when over 100 ABA members descended upon Washington during the October Fall Policy Conference to make their voices heard. This push was critical to our success.
Our work is not done. We hit 2016 running and are hoping to accomplish several priorities. There are a number of food safety regulations yet to be finalized that will impact bakers. We also have a vitally important child nutrition bill where ABA is seeking flexibility from the whole grain standards for school meals. We continue to push hard to solve the GMO labeling challenge before the Vermont labeling bill goes into effect in July.
Stay tuned as we are in store for another busy year.