WASHINGTON — As of Jan. 1, whenever lobbyists for the Grocery Manufacturers Association need some scientific data to back up a position the association is taking on behalf of food manufacturers, all they have to do is pick up the phone.
Now that GMA and the Food Products Association, also based here, have merged, the laboratory facilities and technical research expertise of FPA are at the disposal of GMA and its members.
“When you combine the public policy and legislative advocacy expertise that GMA had and that FPA had, and then you combine that with this scientific powerhouse, it puts the organization in a much stronger position to cover effectively the wide front of issues that have to be covered both with Congress as well as with the regulatory agencies,” said Sean McBride, vice president, communications, GMA/FPA, in an interview with SN last week.
Although GMA has long had scientifically trained experts on staff, adding the thorough expertise and on-site lab expertise of FPA will mean less reliance on outside sources for research and easier access to data that support its positions, McBride explained.
“If you were a state or federal lobbyist for the GMA, yes, you had the policy background on some sort of contaminant, for example — you understand it, you've read about it,” he said. “But now you will be able to have in-house, without having to outsource, scientific experts that you can call or email, or collaborate with, before you go to talk to a congressman or an official at the FDA. You now have technological and scientific expertise in-house that you can use to bolster your interface with a congressperson, a federal regulator, a state legislator, a state regulatory official.”
On most issues related to the food industry, he explained, GMA and FPA historically have taken similar positions because of the large overlap between the two groups' membership.
For example, this past fall both associations were founding members of the Coalition for a Stronger FDA, an initiative aimed at increasing federal funding for the Food and Drug Administration to bolster the safety of the food supply.
“Now we act as one voice as members of that coalition,” McBride said.
The two agencies often shared lobbying resources in the past, he explained, divvying up responsibilities for different issues and for working with different regulatory bodies.
“FPA had both a federal and state advocacy group, and our personnel worked very cooperatively and proactively with their personnel,” he said. “We tried our best not to cover the same ground with limited resources, so if it made sense for one group to be spearheading something in one state or on one piece of state regulation, then the other group would spend their time and resources leading the effort in another state or on another issue.”
Combining the two associations has resulted in some staff reductions, he said, although he declined to discuss their magnitude.
The leadership of the combined GMA/FPA is a blend of former executives from both groups, led by Cal Dooley, the former head of the FPA who was named president and chief executive of GMA/FPA. Manly Molpus, the former head of GMA, has retired effective at the end of 2006.
According to McBride, one of the key leadership roles at the merged GMA/FPA is being filled by Pat Verduin, who joined the association on a full-time basis effective Jan. 1 as senior vice president and chief science officer. She most recently was senior vice president of product quality and development at ConAgra Foods, Omaha, Neb.
“Her scientific expertise, her relationships with policymakers and her ability to effectively distill and communicate complex issues make her the perfect choice to help GMA/FPA accomplish its goals on behalf of its members,” Dooley said in a statement at the time her hiring was announced last fall.
In addition to McBride, who had been a GMA consultant and recently joined the merged groups as a vice president, other key executives include:
Steve McCroddan, senior vice president, chief financial officer and chief administrative officer. He had been with FPA.
Mary Sophos, senior vice president, government affairs and chief government affairs officer. She had been with GMA.
Craig Henry, senior vice president and COO of scientific and regulatory affairs. He had been with FPA.
Steve Sibert, senior vice president, industry affairs. He had been with GMA.
Carla Mitchell, vice president, human resources. She had been with FPA.
Hilarie Hoting, vice president, member services, She had been with GMA.
Jim Skiles, vice president and general counsel. He had been with GMA.
GMA is planning to move into the offices of FPA soon, McBride said, pending the completion of some remodeling work.
The two groups are also working to combine their websites, found at www.gmabrands.com and www.fpa-food.org .