Food Industry Opposes Fee for More Inspections
(Wall Street Journal, DC)
By JANE ZHANG
The food industry has launched a lobbying blitz as the House moves toward passing legislation to bolster food-safety regulation.
Food companies embrace some new rules because they have lost billions of dollars to recalls and drops in consumer demand following recent cases of contaminated products, most recently a salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 700 nationwide and has been linked to nine deaths. But the industry is fighting Democrats' proposal to charge annual fees to cover increased inspections.
Industry lobbyists are targeting members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose chairman, Henry Waxman (D., Calif.), is drafting legislation that he wants to pass this year.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the industry's largest trade group, is leading the effort, which includes trade groups representing seafood, milk, cheese, spices, snacks and food marketing. In recent weeks, lobbyists have met with Mr. Waxman's staff and Republicans on the committee, and have also focused on moderate Democrats.
GMA Chief Executive Pamela Bailey met earlier this month with moderate Democrat Charlie Melancon of Louisiana, according to Melancon spokeswoman Robin Winchell. She said the congressman's staff has also met several times with GMA representatives. "He is monitoring the discussion [on food safety] and believes we need to address the vulnerabilities in our current food-safety system," Ms. Winchell said.
GMA officials have also met with other moderate Democrats, including Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike Ross of Arkansas and aides to John Barrow of Georgia. Aides confirmed the meetings and said food safety was discussed.
The food industry supports some tighter rules, including giving the Food and Drug Administration the power to order recalls, conduct more inspections at plants producing high-risk foods, and examine production records under certain circumstances.
But food companies strongly oppose the proposal for annual fees, which is included in a bill sponsored by the Energy and Commerce Committee's former chairman, John Dingell (D., Mich.) and two subcommittee chairmen, Bart Stupak (D., Mich.) and Frank Pallone (D., N.J.).
The industry supports a Senate bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire that doesn't require registration fees. 3-22-09
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