An array of food and transportation industry panelists warned the Department of Transportation that pending regulations limiting hours of service by truck drivers will create delays in shipments and raise costs for consumers.

In a hearing Nov. 30 by the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending, lawmakers were warned that the reduction in allowable driving hours from 11 hours a day to 10 hours a day and other hours of service restricts will have immediate and costly consequences.

“If the Department of Transportation decides to finalize its proposed hours of service rules, it will mean higher prices for food products and all other items sold in grocery stores,” said Glen Keysaw, director of transportation and logistics for Associated Food Stores Inc., Salt Lake City.

Keysaw testified on behalf of the Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute and said his company estimates a 3% increase in freight because of the proposed regulations. What’s more, he said the changes will result in reductions of deliveries to retail stores — notably night deliveries — which he said will translate to shortages of products on stores shelves.

In comments submitted to the Department of Transportation, the FMI regulatory counsel Erik Lieberman urged the agency to abandon the effort to implement new rules.

Trucking companies are nearly unanimous in advising the Department of Transportation to keep  hours of service at 11 hours, said Kenny Lund, vice president of support operations for La Canada, Calif.-based Allen Lund Co. Inc.

“The changes they made in 2004 have proven to be very good changes. They have yielded a great safety record,” he said.

Lund said if federal regulations cut hours of service to 10 hours, it could be devastating to produce shippers, adding that transportation time from the West Coast to the East Coast could be lengthened by a day, which for some items like strawberries can eat up 25% of the shelf life.

What’s more, Lund said food distribution centers have been set up for one-day delivery schedules. If driver hours are reduced, then more distant round trip shipments could no longer be made in one day.

“It really messes up a lot of distribution by taking that one hour out,” Lund said.

Tommy Chase, transportation manager with Progreso Produce Ltd., Boerne, Texas, said the regulation figures to have more of an effect on coast to coast shipments of perishable commodities such as lettuce, strawberries and broccoli as opposed to more durable commodities like onions and potatoes.

The regulations would lengthen the time it takes fresh produce to reach consumers, which raises food safety concerns, Julie Manes, director of government relations for Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, said in comments to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration earlier this year.

“We believe the proposed Hours of Service rule under consideration does not pass the test of balancing public safety with economic well-being and should therefore be withdrawn,” Manes said.

Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist with the Grain Valley, Mo.-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said there are expectations that the final rule regarding hours of service will be issued by the end of December.