Key development: Led a coalition that's fighting mandatory country-of-origin labeling.
What's next: Pushing for reduction and regulation of credit-card interchange fees; mediating OTC drug regulation.
It's been a busy year for Tim Hammonds and the Food Marketing Institute. Tackling issues ranging from estate-tax repeal to class-action tort reform and the ever-increasing cost of credit-card interchange fees, FMI continues to be a powerful voice for the industry in Washington.
Victories this year included another advance in the association's ongoing battle with mandatory country-of-origin labeling. FMI has led a coalition of 350 organizations urging Congress to replace the Agricultural Marketing Act's current COOL laws with voluntary standards. Last month, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., introduced the Food Promotion Act of 2005, which, if passed, would do just that for meats and produce.
"We have never had a problem providing consumers with source information," Hammonds told SN. "We have just worked as hard as we can to be sure it doesn't come with the multibillion-dollar cost of the mandatory law."
The association is employing a similar strategy of education and coalition-building to tackle the ever-escalating cost of credit- card interchange fees. Hammonds said the antitrust suit filed in June by a coalition of small businesses against Visa and MasterCard had "a great deal of merit," but he noted that FMI is working on the issue through its connections on Capitol Hill.
"We're exploring a wide range of solutions, including actions taken in Australia, the U.K. and the European Union to reduce and regulate the fees," he said, adding that FMI hopes to unite the industry around a specific campaign, and then build a broader coalition of merchants.
Perhaps one of the most sensitive issues to face FMI's members in recent years has been the growth of methamphetamine abuse, given the role that over-the-counter cold medicines play in the production of illicit drugs that are devastating many rural communities.
FMI in recent months has had to walk a fine line between supporting measures to curb misuse of certain cold medicines while shielding retailers from blanket legislation that could affect pediatric drugs or even force supermarkets without pharmacies entirely out of the OTC drug market.
Hammonds said FMI is working on solutions to protect easy customer access to health remedies that do not pose a problem, while encouraging manufacturers to reformulate their products into forms not subject to abuse.
To focus on these diverse legislative matters while simultaneously making an effort to grow its annual convention, FMI this year also began considering a sale of its stake in the FMI trade show.
The recent addition of partners, including the Fancy Food Show, the All Things Organic Show, and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable show, has benefited all parties, Hammonds said.
"These partnerships have worked very well, and we continue to look for others, including those who might be willing to invest some equity of their own in return for adding unique resources that would help put us back on a growth path and add energy to the event," Hammonds said.