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California Perspective: We Can Fight City Hall—And We Should

Ron Fong
Ron Fong

by Ron Fong/president and CEO, California Grocers Association

Local governments across the country have become emboldened to legislate on issues they never considered. Likely due to the action or inaction of federal and state governments, cities and counties feel it is a duty and opportunity to regulate on the bleeding-edge policy. California has always been a hotbed of progressive policy at the local level, but we have reached a new territory with the regulation of raw meat products by the City of San Francisco.

At the end of 2017, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that would require larger grocery stores to report to the city the use of antibiotics in animals for all raw meat products. Their thought process is that the overuse of antibiotics in animals is a contributing cause to antibiotics resistance in humans, creating a health risk.

Whether the intentions of San Francisco will result in improved human health is unknown, but it is clear that this mandate is an extreme burden for grocers. The ordinance requires grocers to report detailed antibiotics use information for posting on the city website. The challenge is the depth and reach of information requested is either not available or is so specific that compliance is impossible.

The likely result of implementation, which has already been delayed once by the food industry, will be an outcry by the ordinance sponsors, like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and confusion for consumers. This potential perception of a lack of compliance by grocers and meat producers will be the result of a poorly written ordinance pursued by a government entity ill equipped to understand or regulate agricultural issues.

The issue in San Francisco is not the only issue grocers are fighting in California currently. Local governments also are regulating mandated recycling of cans and bottles, pushing grocers out of compliance with state law. We also are experiencing a war on plastic, leading to potential cost increases of up to 400 percent on food packaging.

Engaged and active local governments are necessary to build and maintain communities where food retailers can be successful. But pushing to create a statewide or nationwide policy trend on the backs of brick-and-mortar grocers will result in fewer grocers serving neighborhoods. Grocers invest in property, provide jobs and generate taxes. Local governments need to be careful to not bite that hand that feeds them, literally.

As an industry we need to be vigilant and consistent advocates with our local governments. Creating appreciation and understanding of the complexities of running a grocery store will go a long way to preventing further damage to our industry. Our state and national capitals should be watched closely, but don’t forget to keep an eye on City Hall as well.

Fong became President and CEO of CGA in March 2008. A native Californian and a lawyer, he joined CGA after 12 years with the California Credit Union League (CCUL). At CGA, Fong serves as the association’s chief legislative and political advocate and ­oversees government relations, member services, convention and communication programs. He also is ­president of the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation (CGAEF). His grandfather started Carmichael Supermarket, the first grocery market in Carmichael, California, in 1941, and Fong worked in the ­grocery business as he grew up.

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