business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) plans to propose tomorrow a unique public-private partnership that would “beef up federal oversight of imported food and ingredients” while simultaneously requiring the food industry “to adopt food-safety measures such as product tests and checks on foreign suppliers.”

According to the story, GMA also is “lobbying Congress for more funds for the Food and Drug Administration, and it is working with federal and state officials and other groups toward a model regulation for farms and packing houses around the country.”

These activities are consistent with those being undertaken by other producer, processor and grower groups, which seem to feel that it is time for the federal government to take a larger regulatory role in this area. This is, of course, a shift in attitudes for an industry that traditionally has resisted government regulation. But, as the Journal notes, “Behind the shift is an increasing awareness among industry executives that, with several major food-contamination cases recently shaking consumer confidence and damping sales, their push for greater deregulation is hurting themselves.

“In the vacuum of strong national regulation, states, food processors and retailers are imposing their own rules and requirements to ensure product safety. Complying with the resulting web of rules is proving expensive and difficult for many food makers, however.”
KC's View:
Not having seen the GMA proposal, I’m not sure if this will be in there…but it ought to be: Not only should there be strong federal regulation, but the government ought to do something about the web of regulatory agencies that is charged with keeping track of food safety issues. There ought to be one agency with responsibility for the whole thing. Greater regulation doesn’t have to mean greater complexity. In this case, it should mean precisely the opposite.

(I’m jumping on a bandwagon here. FMI’s Tim Hammonds made this recommendation years ago, but many in the industry scoffed at it. But he may have been proved prescient by events, and if the time isn’t right now, then it’s only because it could be too late.)