By Lisa Horne, president Arizona Food Allergy Alliance
It was a whirlwind, or maybe, as we say in Arizona, a haboob*. Just three weeks after AFAA was contacted by Senator Linda Lopez, Senate Bill 1278 was drafted and heard Wednesday, February 1st, by the Commerce and Energy Committee of the Arizona State Senate. (You’d think a food-allergy bill would be heard by a health-oriented committee, but restaurants aren’t about health apparently.)
It is important that the bill included two very simple, time- and cost-efficient measures: 1- post the FAAN restaurant posters in English and Spanish. 2- Have a manager or owner watch the FAAN restaurant training video. The aim of this bill was to create increased education and awareness. Total time estimated to comply? About 30 minutes to hang the posters and watch a 17-minute video.
I won’t keep you in suspense: We lost, by a 4-2 committee vote along party lines. But what we learned will help us in the fight ahead.
For those unfamiliar with a Senate hearing, those in favor and those opposing are each given a chance to speak. The chairman called those in favor first, with the lobbyist from the Restaurant Association, being the only one present in opposition, going last. The lobbyist claimed that the FALCPA of 2004 (The Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Act) was already making restaurants take good care of their food allergic guests. (False. As most in the food allergy community know, this Act required products manufactured after 2006 to include labeling regarding what is widely known as the top or big 8–peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat, dairy, egg, soy). It was disheartening to say the least, to have the Senate Chairman respond to her inaccurate and uneducated information as “educated and enlightening”, and thanking her most graciously.
Each senator who voted against gave closing remarks explaining his or her vote.
Committee Chairman, Senator Al Melvin firstname.lastname@example.org 602-926-4326. Senator Melvin expressed his gratitude for the misinformation he received from the lobbyist regarding FALCPA of 2004. His remarks included two points: 1- He goes to the grocery store and sees all these gluten-free foods available to the food-allergy community. We are already being catered to and have options. 2- He has a friend, that has a wife with a food allergy and one time she couldn’t go on a vacation because of it.
Senator Gail Griffin email@example.com 602-926-5895. Senator Griffin said that with all of the “mays” and “shalls” in the verbiage, it was nothing more than a very restrictive mandate that would hinder the restaurant industry.
Senator Steve Yarbrough firstname.lastname@example.org 602-926-5863. Senator Yarbrough said he has a family member with two sons that both have Crohn’s. He likened life-threatening food allergies to Crohn’s disease, as his basis for the current state of the food and beverage industry being acceptable for the food allergy community of Arizona.
Senator Michele Reagan email@example.com 602-926-5828. Senator Reagan said she has a family member that has a son with a life-threatening food allergy, and she knows from personal experience that as long as you have your medication with you at all times, you will be just fine. Referencing that the Epi-Pen is a 100% safety net.
Because we were not given a chance to rebut what I considered the lobbyist’s misleading testimony, I did approach two of the nay-saying senators. Without going into details what I heard only confirmed the old saying, “No one who values food or democracy should ever watch sausages or laws being made.”
These senators supported this bill:
Senator Linda Lopez, who drafted and sponsored this bill, although she was not on the committee that heard it and therefore was not represented in the vote. Senator Linda Lopez firstname.lastname@example.org (602) 926-4089
Senator Robert Meza email@example.com 602-926-3425
Senator Olivia Cajero Bedford firstname.lastname@example.org 602-926-5835
All-in-all this was a great experience. We now know how to better arm ourselves against lobbyists. We also know that members of the food allergy community of Arizona must work double-time to get in touch with their elected officials, so that we can achieve bipartisan support of the bill, which is slated to be reheard in the next session of our Senate in 2013.
* A haboob (Arabic: “strong wind”) is a type of intense dust storm carried on an atmospheric gravity current; occur regularly in Arizona.