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GMO Agreement; Behind the Scenes; California Tobacco Ban Defeated; National Recap

​GMO Agreement
Preemption language in a compromise bill renders all potential state statutes null and void.
By Anna Ready & Jonathan Taets

Many of the food products you see today likely contain some kind of genetically modified organ- isms (GMOs), as food producers have found new and unique ways to protect crops from disease and predation or increase volume and production. As a result, GMO labeling has become one of the most hotly debated issues in Washington.

After long debate and negotiation this summer, Congress has created a federal labeling requirement for food products containing GMOs, and in late July, President Obama signed a new federal standard into law.

Small State, Big Debate
A 2014 Vermont law requiring products containing GMOs to be labeled as of July 1, 2016, brought the issue to the national stage. If something is not labeled or improperly labeled in the state, a manufacturer could face fines and penalties, even if it is not located in Vermont.

While Vermont is just one state, the supply chain felt the ripple effects, as did retailers with private label products. Other state legislatures were also considering GMO labeling legislation.

Grocery manufacturers, food producers and large retailers eventually saw the writing on the wall and asked Congress to intervene with federal legislation that would preempt state and local labeling laws.

Decision Delay
In July 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation authored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS-04) that would have created a voluntary labeling requirement. Manufacturers wishing to set themselves apart would be able to label their products as “non-GMO” and create a process where the federal government would verify any such claim. Many advocates and congressional allies opposed the bill because they believed it did not go far enough since it didn’t require labeling products that contain GMOs.

Since last year, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee have been working to reach a compromise that would include a labeling requirement for GMOs. The hope had been to produce legislation that could have passed before the July 1, 2016, implementation date of Vermont’s onerous labeling rules. But as usual, there’s no time for Congress like the very last minute.

Just before the July 1 deadline, the Senate reached a deal. An agreement between Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) provides manufacturers with a number of options on how to label products containing GMOs. They may choose text, a symbol or an electronic link (though not a URL). Smaller manufacturers may have the option to include a phone number or website. The bill also requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a study, within one year, on the potential challenges faced by the electronic disclosure option.

On July 8, the Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 63–30 despite vigorous opposition and filibuster attempts by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT). The House passed the Senate’s legislation on July 14 before leaving town for the August recess, and President Obama signed the legislation into law on July 29.

Importance for C-Stores
What may be most important to retailers, particularly those with private-label products, is that the compromise bill, like the original House version, included preemption language that renders the Vermont rule and any other potential state statutes that may come up in the future null and void. This important provision eliminates the confusion and disruption in the supply chain that a patchwork of state and local laws would have caused as manufacturers attempted to comply with varying laws and regulations.

While the House supporters of the original bill weren’t entirely enamored with the Senate compromise, they determined that it was ultimately in the best interest of everyone involved to get a federal standard that included preemption to the president’s desk as soon as possible—particularly since Vermont’s rule had been in effect for two weeks, and in some cases was being treated as a de facto national standard. The vote in the House was 306-117, overcoming a unique combination of opposition from those on the far right, concerned primarily about setting a federal standard and the total cost of having such a standard, and those on the far left, who don’t feel the legislation went far enough to require labeling of products containing GMOs.

Now that the president has signed the legislation into law, the USDA has two years to write the final rule that will govern GMO labeling. This is the step that has some in the industry holding their breath. While most everyone agrees that a national standard is preferable, it is important that the USDA maintains the intent of Congress and considers the impact on retailers in rulemaking.

Most concerning is the belief that the USDA, upon completing their study, may determine that retailers should be required to provide customers with some kind of device, which would be able to read the electronic disclosure options. This was brought up as a possible concern by some advocates and Democratic senators during hearings and discussions on the issue. This could be costly and problematic, particularly for smaller retailers in more rural areas where wireless coverage or high-speed Internet access may not be as readily available.

Anna Ready is the NACS director of government affairs. She can be reached at or (703) 518-4227. Jonathan Taets is the NACS director of government relations. He can be reached at or (703) 518-4224.


Behind the Scenes
Get to know your congressional staffers.
By Paige Anderson

Ever wonder how your member of Congress is able to give a speech on tax policy and the economy to the local chamber of commerce, conduct an interview with the local media on the importance of better health care for our veterans, meet local small businesses on the regulatory burdens they face—and then manage to answer your phone calls, letters and emails on how they voted or their stand on a particular issue?

Each representative and senator has a group of dedicated and hardworking staff to help them represent and assist their constituents both in Washington and in your local district. While each member of Congress organizes their staffs differently, most offices have four main areas of responsibilities: legislative, communications, administration and constituent services.

Legislative Staff
The primary responsibility of the legislative staff is to understand the legislative process and know the issues and legislation that their boss will be working or voting on. Usually each legislative aide has a primary policy area that they focus on, such as energy, tax policy or health care. These staffers help write legislation, prepare briefing materials and recommendations on votes, hearings and meetings, draft committee statements, respond to constituent mail and calls, meet with constituents, and generally advance their boss’s legislative agenda.

The legislative director (LD) or policy director is in charge of all policy and legislative matters for the member of Congress and manages the legislative staff. Legislative assistants (LAs) or policy advisors have areas of expertise on certain issues. Legislative correspondents (LCs) are responsible for answering all constituent mail, emails and phone calls.

All members of Congress want to be able to communicate with their constituents and share how they voted. With a 24-hour news cycle, the Internet and proliferation of social media outlets, communications staffers have even more challenges than they did 10 years ago, when most offices had a single press secretary who drafted press releases, opinion pieces for the newspaper and speeches. With so many communication outlets, many offices now have a communications director and a press secretary or social media specialist.

Like in the private sector, no office can be effective without an organized team dedicated to making sure the phones are answered, the mail is delivered to the correct staff member, computers are secure and operating and all other everyday logistical tasks are done. Staff assistants, office managers and systems administrators all take care of these necessary duties to ensure an office runs smoothly. One of the most important jobs in a congressional office   is the executive assistant or scheduler. This staffer has the primary responsibility of determining who meets with the member of Congress and which events he or she attends.

Constituent Services
While much attention is placed on the Washington staff, members of Congress also have offices in their home districts. The local staff is on the frontlines and has the most direct contact with constituents. They are responsible for representing the member at local meetings, taking care of individual constituent issues with federal government agencies and organizing local meetings and events. District directors, district representatives, field representatives, caseworkers and staff assistants all serve in the local office to help constituents.

Meet Your Representative (or Their Staff)
NACS can help you engage with your legislator—whether in Washington or in your home district.

When you come to Washington—on your own or attending the NACS Government Relations Conference in March—drop by your member of Congress’s office. And if you’re unable to meet with your representative or senator, meeting with staff is just as effective and can be a very rewarding experience. If you receive a letter signed by your member of Congress in response to a question or concern, remember there was a hardworking, talented, young staff member helping to serve you.

Paige Anderson is the NACS director of government relations. She can be reached at or (703) 518-4221.


California Tobacco Ban Defeated
By Anna Ready

A California measure that would have outlawed tobacco sales in convenience stores and other retail outlets was defeated this summer. The bill, SB 1400, would have included the state’s most substantial tobacco regulations to date. Introduced by state Senator Bob Wieckowski, the legislation would have made c-stores and grocery stores ineligible to sell tobacco products by changing the definition of an eligible retail location to businesses that generate 60% or more of gross revenue annually from tobacco-related products. This would have also applied to e-cigarettes.

In early June, SB 1400 gained quick momentum and passed in the California Senate, meaning it was another step closer to becoming law, a possibility that sent alarm bells through the convenience store industry. The bill moved on to the California Assembly for consideration. More than 200 convenience store owners showed up in force at the California Assembly Business and Professions Committee hearing to share their opposition and concerns. Their voices were heard and the committee did not even take a vote. Had this bill passed, more than 30,000 retailers, including convenience stores and grocery stores, would have lost the ability to sell tobacco products.

The convenience store industry is often under attack, whether it’s at the federal, state or local level.

Legislative efforts like SB 1400 can come out of now-here, gain momentum and have devastating effects on convenience stores. It’s imperative to always be on high alert, paying attention to what your state and local legislators are considering, and staying in touch with your state associations.

In the case of SB 1400, California retailers mobilized quickly to defeat the bill and their voices were heard.

Anna Ready is the NACS director of government affairs. She can be reached at or (703) 518-4227.


National Recap
By Jim Ellis

Now in the post-convention period, both major political parties have official presidential nominees.

Therefore, the general election cycle featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is at long last officially underway. Libertarian Gary Johnson will be on the ballot in all 50 states, while Green Party nominee Jill Stein is likely to appear before the voters in approximately 22 states and the District of Columbia.

The polls continue to reverberate, reflecting both candidates’ post-convention bounces. In the aggregate, the surveys tell us that the two contenders are virtually tied. At this point, now about 100 days from the election at this writing, either candidate can win. It is very likely the factors that will determine the final outcome have not yet occurred, or at least haven't occurred at the time I'm writing this column.

Both parties pulled ballot deadline chicanery in critical U.S. Senate races. In Florida, just as the candidate filing deadline was about to expire in late June, Republican leaders convinced Sen. Marco Rubio to seek re-election even after his failed presidential campaign. This gives the GOP a much better chance of holding his important swing seat come November.

In July, Indiana Democrats proved even craftier. Within a day of the ballot becoming frozen for the general election, party leaders convinced their senatorial nominee, former U.S. Rep. Baron Hill (D) to withdraw from the race so that former senator and governor Evan Bayh (D), along with the $9.3 million that remains in his political war chest, could enter.   Now, the Indiana seat moves from the safe Republican column all the way to "lean" Democrat. The first poll gives Bayh a major 21-point lead over U.S. Rep. Todd Young (R).

It appears that that Florida, Indiana and the open Nevada seat will become the keys to the next Senate majority. If one party wins all three states, it will attain majority status.

Jim Ellis is the publisher of the Ellis Insight publication, a service of Weber Merritt Public Affairs ( Watch for Jim’s monthly insight and analysis of the 2016 election throughout the year.