Wednesday, March 01, 2006

And Now They're Playing Sneaky-Pete with Food Safety

Yesterday, we discussed shady maneuvering to eliminate offshore wind power developments; today comes news of H.R. 4167, the "National Uniformity for Food Act." And what would this act do?

The measure would require uniformity on warning labels and set standards that would affect a wide variety of state regulations.

According to the National Uniformity for Food Coalition, whose members include trade associations, supermarket chains and food manufacturers, different laws in different states confuse consumers. "The citizens of all states deserve the same level of food safety," the coalition's Web site says. "Food cannot be safe in one state and unsafe in another."

But critics of the measure — including state departments of agriculture, state food and drug officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the California attorney general and a long list of consumer advocacy groups — say it would gut all state regulations, including food safety investigations and sanitation standards for restaurants. In some instances, they say, the bill would replace regulations with nothing because there are no federal standards.

In particular, the bill would pre-empt California's Proposition 65, a 1986 law that requires consumer notification about contaminants known to cause cancer or birth defects.

The California law, which led to the reduction of arsenic in bottled water and lead in calcium supplements nationwide, has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to tighten federal standards over the years. Most recently, the state has required warnings for pregnant women about mercury in certain fish.

Erik D. Olson, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "What the bill would do is assure the lowest common denominator of protection. Cheaper food that has poisonous chemicals in it is no bargain. They are being responsible and protecting citizens when the federal government hasn't done its job." (my emphasis)

Jon Coifman at NRDC made an interesting comment when he emailed me about this: "...a bill that effectively wipes out more than 200 food safety and labeling rules in 50 states has suddenly started to move, after having been dormant for ages. There have been no hearings, and hardly any public debate." So, we've got to wonder: what's the rush? Why on earth would the Congress feel the need to suddenly hurry up on such an important matter? Finally, what ever happened to the passionate defense of states' rights that we used to hear from these folks?

Of course, NRDC has set up an action alert that allows you to email your representative. Get a letter out, and do it now -- they could be voting on this tomorrow. Thanks to both Jon and Laura Jack at NRDC for getting the word out...

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