Solutions, resources, answers: an exclusive Q&A with the ABA’s Robb MacKie

The Baker’s Take had an exclusive chat with Robb MacKie, president and CEO of the American Bakers Association, on hot-button regulatory issues facing bakers and their industry partners.

What current regulations are most affecting the baking industry and why?

FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) and food labeling. FSMA, signed into law in 2011, enables the FDA to better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system. ABA – and our members – understand the importance of ensuring a safe and healthy food supply and making sure they’re compliant. The implementation of this act is ongoing.

Regarding food labeling, one of the most recent changes is the bioengineered (BE) food disclosure from the USDA. This national mandatory standard requires companies to disclose the presence of BE food in their products. The compliance date for this label update coincides – for most of our members – with the rest of the Nutrition Facts Label changes.

Are there upcoming regulations that could also impact bakers and their suppliers?

One, trade and tariffs. Trade and Tariff regulations have been a moving target not just for the baking industry, but for all in manufacturing. Over the last year, President Trump’s administration has rolled out a series of tariffs targeting steel and aluminum imports. Tariffs on steel and aluminum, even if isolated, will still raise the price of the materials and the machines made from them. This, in combination with the section 301 tariffs separately levied against Chinese bakery ovens, will cause the price of new equipment to skyrocket – reducing the amount of money bakers have in order to expand and create new jobs and increasing the costs of traditionally cheap food staples.

The administration has also levied tariffs on a diverse set of goods imported from China including on bakery ovens, manufacturing equipment, and food ingredients. While progress is being made in negotiations between the two countries, industries are unable to apply for exclusions from the tariffs despite China being a sole exporter of many goods. Many baked good inputs are manufactured in China solely, including the key fortifying ingredient folic acid. Should it be named in a future tariff by the administration, bakeries may be on the hook for increased costs on a major ingredient that is mandated by federal law.

Two, nutrition. Starting this past January and ending in 2020, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will recommend updates to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The importance of these guidelines can’t be understated: they are the bedrock of all federal food policy for the next five years. ABA is working to ensure that the science-based recommendations recognize the full value of grain food diets. Through ABA’s partnerships, we are working on nutrition policy modernization as well as sodium reduction targets.

Thirdly, Joint Employer. ABA recently submitted comments to the Department of Labor as they determine new rules on the respective responsibilities in joint employer relationships under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Labor Department proposed adopting new terms to determine if two or more entities are joint employers of a group of employees. In our comments, we highlighted baker-specific instances of foodservice contracting and advised on ways to strengthen the final rule. The Department is reviewing all of the comments it received and will develop and release its final rule in several months.

How has the regulatory environment changed in the baking industry in recent years?

We have had a favorable change in the administration side, but we still see challenges in particular with some of the agencies. Several of the agencies we work with are still significantly understaffed and don’t have the horsepower to move some things through that we had hoped to move a little more quickly. We also need to consider the residual impacts and slowdowns caused by the government shutdown during January 2019.

What is ABA doing to help its members navigate regulations?

On a broad level, ABA is the on-call, industry-specific resource for our members for not only regulatory and legislative needs but also educational programs, leadership training, and industry business alignment. Our various professional groups – made up of employees from our member companies – come together to determine their needs. Through these groups, we help craft solutions, develop resources, and answer questions. ABA also acts as a go-between in compliance situations. We have intervened on behalf of members to mitigate or eliminate fines and penalties where a compliance officer does not have a good understanding of the baking industry.

To give an example, our Food Technical & Regulatory Professionals group recently held a BE Summit to discuss the recently released BE Food Disclosure. We had someone from the USDA – who actually helped write the rule – present answers to pre-submitted questions and also answer questions directly from attendees. A panel discussion from Retail and Foodservice representatives followed up the USDA’s presentation to give attendees perspective on how baker customer industries are affected by the rule. We then followed the presentations with an attendee discussion on the new rule.

The expertise from our members coupled with the decades of experience by our in-house, industry-specific government relations team ensures our members clearly understand how to navigate regulations. This clarity saves our members time – and therefore money.