Unlike bankers, bakers have an opportunity to voice their opinion about key food policy initiatives.
At a recent meeting, I crossed paths with a longtime friend who works for another ABA in town, the American Bankers Association. Over the years, we have received misdirected mail or phone calls for one another, resulting in a running joke between us. My friend, however, was feeling the strain of having her industry's future debated by the U.S. Senate. We both agreed it was better to be advocating on behalf of bakers rather than bankers these days.
After this conversation, I wondered how the ABA (bakers, that is) would respond to a similar takeover or restructuring of the baking industry's product offerings and business model. After all, if policy makers in Washington can restructure whole swaths of our economy as they have in the automotive, health insurance, student loan and now financial service industries, they can certainly do so for bakers and the food industry.
As farfetched as that may seem, there is a growing list of food policy issues that are being considered by the FDA, USDA and Congress that could dramatically impact bakers of all sizes and product categories. Unlike the full-frontal assault facing the banking industry, these food policy initiatives are more akin to slowly turning up the heat on the frog in the frying pan. Before the frog realizes he is in danger, he is already cooked.
ABA and other food industry associations have thus far mitigated the impact of efforts to rewrite food safety laws. In addition, the food industry is fairly united in its efforts to ensure that any new federal dietary guidelines are based on sound science and to head off onerous restrictions on food advertising to children. However, with introduction of bipartisan legislation addressing childhood obesity on top of the First Lady's “Let's Move” initiative, and the ongoing dietary guidelines review, the food industry is facing a multitude of policy challenges.
To add more heat to the pan, there have been recent discussions regarding implementing front-of-pack labeling requirements on food products, similar to European requirements. In addition, behind-the-scenes chatter suggests federal regulators are re-examining back-of-pack nutrition facts panels and serving sizes. Any one of these issues would impact bakers. Combined, they would make one empathize with bankers, or at least the frog in the pan.
Unlike the frog, however, ABA members have an opportunity to express their concerns and share their suggestions with key policy makers at the upcoming ABA policy conference June 9-11 in Washington, D.C. The ABA board, the Allied Trades of the Baking Industry board and ABA's FTRAC will be leading the charge at their June meetings.
A critically important highlight of the policy conference is the session “The Childhood Obesity/Hunger Paradox: How to Win on Both Fronts,” with key leaders and nutrition experts in the U.S. Capitol. ABA and the Grain Foods Foundation are hosting this unique session with Congressional moms, Obama administration officials, nutritionists and nonprofit organization Share Our Strength, to reinforce the health and budget benefits of grains as part of a healthy lifestyle. Afterward, the group will visit with key lawmakers to make the case for nutritional health policy based on sound science. I expect that bakers and their suppliers will take full advantage of this opportunity.