In the run-up to last year’s presidential election, few executives in the food industry could be found who supported the Democratic platform and Barack Obama’s ambitious agenda for reform.
Now, after eight years of a hands-off approach to business regulation, the White House is in activist mode, for better or for worse.
Following a series of outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, one of President Obama’s first actions in his new position was to create a White House Food Safety Working Group, which recently unveiled a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing foodborne illness by stressing prevention, traceability, and cooperation among the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture and other state and federal agencies.
“President Obama’s most important impact on the industry may lie in the realm of food safety,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, president and chief executive officer, Food Marketing Institute. “[He] is emphasizing collaboration, starting with FDA and USDA. This principle extends to all government agencies at all levels.”
Now Obama is also seeking to shepherd health care reform through Congress — an issue that also promises to impact food retailers.
“His ambition to reform health care will have a major impact on the labor-intensive food retail and wholesale industry,” said Sarasin. “The result must be a plan that improves health care, extends coverage to all and, most important, reduces the cost.”
Tom Zaucha, president and CEO, National Grocers Association, agreed that health care reform was one of the areas where Obama’s influence will be felt by retailers. “I think the strongest challenge comes from labor issues,” he told SN, citing Obama’s appointments at the Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board.
“Given the appointments, given the [Democratic] Congress and given the agenda, it’s going to be a real challenge,” Zaucha said.
— Mark Hamstra