Ice It

Posted May 11, 2007 at 6:18pm

The recent outbreak of food-borne illnesses is giving most food companies a big stomachache on Capitol Hill. Congressional Democrats have been turning up the heat on the industry while they pressure the Bush administration to increase its food safety oversight. [IMGCAP(1)]

But for one voice in the debate, the hubbub is pretty cool. The International Packaged Ice Association is hoping to use the new attention on safety issues to achieve a long-frozen priority: getting the federal government to recognize and regulate ice as a food, which means it could then set standards for the chilly comestible.

“Ice is the forgotten food,” said Jane McEwen, executive director of the group.

The association, which represents about 400 ice manufacturing and distribution facilities, wants the feds to crack down on back-alley ice purveyors: individual operators who use tap water, or worse, to make ice and sell it to unwitting consumers. McEwen said unlike her members, which adhere to strict sanitation requirements, small-scale operations can be dangerous.

With a string of high-profile food scares — over spinach, peanut butter, pet food, and, most recently, imported wheat gluten — the ice industry sensed an opportunity.

Earlier this year, the group met with staffers for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of Food and Drug Administration funds. The office helped put the ice guys in touch with the FDA.

Last month, the group bolstered its efforts by signing the lobbying team at Ogilvy Government Relations. And for the first time, this year the group is set to hold its annual fall conference in Washington, D.C., which will give industry officials a chance to make their pitch to lawmakers.

“When we tell people our story, invariably their response is, ‘I never thought of that,’” McEwen said. “People think because it’s frozen, it can’t harbor harmful bacteria, but it can.”

Flower Power. Mother’s Day — yesterday, for all you delinquents — is always a good day for the floral industry, with moms everywhere collecting armfuls of flowers from loving children. Lucky for florists, they can count on politicians to carry them through less bountiful times of the year. Federal campaigns have spent at least $710,000 on flowers since 2005, according to a recent study by the Center for Responsive Politics. The group found that lawmakers shell out most often for fundraising events and constituent funerals.

Florists return the love. They contributed nearly $830,000 to Members of Congress, political action committees and parties during the previous election cycle, the center found.

And the industry shelled out $880,000 on federal lobbying.

Drew Gruenburg, a lobbyist for the Society of American Florists, said for now, his group is focused on promoting a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate. But, he added, “We’re always in a mode to encourage people to buy more flowers and plants, and Mother’s Day is a great opportunity to do so.”

We Want H-1Bs. The high-tech lobby is throwing its support behind a comprehensive immigration bill and the Information Technology Industry Council has dispatched a letter to Senate leaders urging them to pass the measure to bring more highly skilled workers to the United States.

Lobbyists say the techies are free from any of the worries that other business groups have about greater enforcement of illegal workers. The techies just want more of those plum H-1B visas for educated engineers and scientists. The shortage of such workers, writes ITI President Rhett Dawson, “has reached a crisis level and must be addressed now.”

Deal or No Deal? It seems the deal reached between House Ways and Means Democrats, spearheaded by Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), and the Bush administration, is less than palatable to some of the Democratic party’s biggest constituents: unions.

The Teamsters issued a statement Friday blasting the deal and declaring their opposition.

“To my great disappointment, Democratic leaders in Congress joined with the Bush administration yesterday to announce a trade ‘deal’ that sells out American workers,” Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said.

A more diplomatic AFL-CIO statement commended Rangel’s efforts but said “we reserve final judgment until we have reviewed the agreements in their entirety,” indicating that it had remaining concerns over “outsourcing of U.S. jobs.”

K Street Moves. The Twenty-First Century Group has hired Bob Foster, the one-time chief of staff to then-House Financial Services Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio), as a vice president.

• Patrick Calpin, a former lobbyist for Honda North America, has joined the National Automobile Dealers Association.