WASHINGTON (FNS) -- Retailers and wholesalers here with the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association carried a unified message to Congress last week -- to streamline government regulations.
"The only way to stay effective is to all talk about the same thing," said Ron Frost, public affairs director for Fleming Cos., the country's largest wholesaler, based in Oklahoma City.
Frost was one of 35 members of NAWGA, Falls Church, Va., to visit about 160 legislators from the House and Senate for a "Day in Washington," a semi-annual lobbying effort. The next one is scheduled for June.
In addition to streamlining regulations, other items on the group's agenda included repeal of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act and legal reform.
Federal regulations affecting wholesalers range from clean air to ergonomics. "If the government is going to implement regulations, it should first do a cost-benefit analysis," said Donald Dill, senior vice president of administration for Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles. "We have 11 people in our human resources department and three of them are dedicated to handling government regulations."
At Roundy's in Pewaukee, Wis., David Busch, vice president of administration, said ergonomic regulations proposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are modifying operations.
The food distributor, which does $2.5 billion in yearly business with independent grocers, offers training sessions for those independent grocers to help them stay in compliance at the retail level.
Because of the narrow profit margins of the food industry, government regulations impose additional costs that either are passed along to consumers or force companies out of business, Busch said.
For example, clean air regulations affect Fleming's fleet of 6,500 trucks, as well as its refrigeration units, Frost said.
NAWGA favors several Republican-backed regulatory reform bills. One bill, sponsored by Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and David McIntosh (R-Ind.), would provide for a moratorium on new regulations by the federal government until June 30.
Other bills, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Bill Archer (R-Texas), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, would change the process by which the federal government issues regulations.
The Dole and Archer bills would require the government to assess the cost of a proposed regulation and weigh that against any potential benefits, require federal agencies to publicly announce the cost of their policies, cut paperwork requirements of the federal government by 5% and require federal agencies to complete a regulatory impact analysis when drafting a major regulation.
Also on the minds of the wholesalers and retailers was repeal of PACA, a 65-year-old law requiring all vegetable shippers, receivers or buyers in interstate or foreign commerce to be licensed annually.
Under PACA, buyers must pay for produce within 10 days unless other terms have been worked out. If a complaint is filed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture investigates and decides how to settle it.
While a PACA repeal bill has been sponsored in the House by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), no similar measure has been introduced in the Senate.
In one of his Capitol Hill visits, Dill of Certified Grocers of California said he had prevailed upon Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), to discuss the repeal with the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va., -- which favors altering the bill instead of repealing it.
Fleming Cos.' Frost said his discussions with legislators about PACA repeal educated some who were not familiar with the issue. "We are able to provide real-life examples of what these laws do to business," he said. "We provide a service to Congress by educating it on issues. We let Congress know the real costs of these regulations and PACA is a good example. It is still costing us thousands yearly."
Busch of Roundy's said he discussed the PACA repeal proposal with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Lugar said he would consider sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
NAWGA members also lobbied on behalf of a bill introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) that would institute product liability and tort reform. The measure would require the loser of a lawsuit to pay the winner's legal fees and would restore the mandatory requirement that courts sanction attorneys for improper actions.
The yearly lobbying blitz has proven valuable to the industry over time, Busch said. "Our business is so controlled today by what happens legislatively. If we don't maintain a relationship with our representatives, we will lose in the long term because we won't have our position known."