2019 Chairman's Report

Steve O'Mara
J.F. Braun & Sons

A lot has happened in the food industry in the two years I’ve been chairman of AFI. Our sector – the food import industry – has seen as much, if not more, change and activity as any other. Implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act began before my term but implementation of FSMA’s Foreign Supplier Verification Program rule began two months into by term. 

So, by the time I became chairman, I had been on the board long enough to see FSMA go from being introduced as a bill, to the discussions to refine the bill, to see the bill signed into law in January 2011. Some of the provisions went into effect immediately. Most were subject to the rule-making process. AFI – and, therefore – the interests of the U.S. food import industry, were represented at every step. It took until November 2015 for the final rule on imported food to be published but AFI members were ahead of the game because our association had been an ongoing source of valuable compliance information.

Only about two months before I was elected chairman was the FSVP course released. That’s a course developed through a public-private partnership, funded by FDA. AFI President Bob Bauer served on the task force that developed the course. He and others spent countless hours discussing the regulation, putting into a course manual and refining that manual until they knew it had the material importers needed to comply and that it was in a format and wording that could easily be understood.

As soon as the course was ready, AFI began sponsoring sessions around the country. In fact, no instructor has had more participants take the course than Bob. The course serves as a microcosm of how associations benefit their members. In the beginning, 80+ percent of the participants in the AFI-run sessions were members of the association. Now, the numbers have reversed and many of those from AFI-member firms taking the course now are the second, third or fourth person from the firm to take it. That’s because AFI members know it’s best to have several qualified people at each firm. It shows how, because the association put FSMA and FSVP in an important part of our radar, we knew the value of taking the course and were among the first to take steps to comply. It’s no coincidence that AFI members have fared quite well in FSVP inspections.

While FSVP has been a focus for AFI as of late – as it should be for the food import industry’s trade association – there have been other issues the association has been addressing as well. Diana Thompson’s Nut & Agricultural Products Section report includes details on the efforts to review and make any needed updates to AFI’s product specifications. Joe Christovao’s Processed Foods Section report includes information on AFI’s duty reduction efforts through the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill process – for which the next cycle begins later this year.

Other issues addressed by AFI include California Proposition 65, the updates to the Nutrition Facts Panel and the tariff wars. For Proposition 65, AFI members were able to send samples of their products for testing. The results were then reviewed by consultants and attorneys, giving participating members the information required to know whether their product labels needed to include a Proposition 65 warning. The list of substances covered by that law and the law itself are ever-changing; this program allowed AFI members to comply with the latest round of changes.

The Nutrition Facts Panel testing program was similar. Members were able to participate in a pooled program that allowed us to get the information we needed for our labels in a cost-effective manner because the testing fees were split among the members requesting testing for that product. As with the Prop 65 testing, this program was open to domestic and foreign members. In many cases, members paid less than half of what they would have paid to do the testing on their own.

The tariff wars continue. AFI continually keeps us up-to-date on new developments. Knowing the products and crucial dates as soon as possible gives members a great advantage in terms of the timing of our import entries. The same holds true for programs such as the Generalized System of Preferences. Timelines and products change frequently with regard to GSP, so having reliable information sent to us as it happens is a great benefit.

The association will continue to be busy. If it’s not the issues above, new ones will arise. One constant is that AFI is there to allow us to have a voice and to help ensure we can comply. It’s been a pleasure to serve as chairman of AFI. The members of the board of directors are among the most highly respected and distinguished executives from our respective industries. They are also dedicated and creative individuals who make the investment of time and effort to ensure the success of the imported food industry. I encourage everyone reading this to get engaged and make a difference in our association – and our industry.

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
3301 Route 66, Ste. 205, Bldg. C • Neptune, NJ 07753
(732) 922-3008 • Fax: (732) 922-3590 • afius.org • info@afius.org