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Congress Votes Today on HR 4167 Which Will Eliminate State Food Safety Label Laws

Below are two good articles on H.R. 4167, the National Uniformity for Food Act:

BILL MAY UNDO STATES' RULES ON SAFE FOOD

By MARIAN BURROS
New York Times, March 1, 2006
<http://select.nytimes.com/mem/tnt.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntget=2006/03/01/politics/01food.html&tntemail0=y>

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - The House is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would pre-empt all state food safety regulations that are more stringent than federal standards.

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."

In a letter opposing the bill, the Association of Food and Drug Officials, an organization of state regulators, said that proponents of the bill had misinterpreted it and that it extended well beyond uniform labeling. "Under this bill," it said, "a state cannot have any law, not just a food law, which is not identical to the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act."

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also opposes the bill. In a letter to members of the House, the president of the association, J. Carlton Courter III, said the bill "threatens existing food safety programs," including milk, retail food protection and shellfish sanitation. About 80 percent of food safety inspections in the United States are conducted at state and local levels.

The industry says that critics are mistaken and that there would be no impact on many of these programs. States, it says, would be free to seek exemptions.

"The legislation addresses only food safety tolerances and warning label requirements," said Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "It does not relate to other state labeling requirements."

At a news teleconference on Tuesday, Ben Cohen, a senior attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that because hearings had not been held on the bill, "the food industry is free to give their interpretation."

"Different people have read it differently," Mr. Cohen said.

The bill, introduced by Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan, has 226 co-sponsors from both parties. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce approved it, largely along party lines.

INDUSTRY LOBBIES CONGRESS OVER FOOD LABELS

By LIBBY QUAID The Associated Press, February 28, 2006
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/28/AR20060
22801264.html

WASHINGTON -- States require an array of warnings on food labels, a mandate the House is seeking to undo, critics warned Tuesday.

In Alaska, grocery shoppers must be told whether salmon is farm-raised. In Minnesota, candy labels must say whether alcohol is an ingredient. In Michigan, bulk food made with sulfites must carry allergy warnings.

The food industry, which is backing a bill to remove many warnings, says many labels would remain. Critics disagree.

"This bill would eliminate virtually every state and local law that provides greater protection than our federal food laws," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.

The bill would prohibit states from creating rules that are different from federal requirements. Under the bill, states that want tougher laws could seek an exemption from the Food and Drug Administration.

Consumers in every state deserve consistent warnings, Cal Dooley, president and CEO of the industry's Food Products Association, said in a letter to lawmakers.

The measure applies to tolerances _ allowable levels of color and other food additives _ and warning requirements, said Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

"It does not relate to other state labeling requirements, including Ohio's labeling requirements for honey or Alaska's regulations regarding farm-raised and salmon labeling," Childs said.

Opponents say the bill would indeed go much further. Critics include the National Conference of State Legislatures and the associations of state food and drug officials and state agriculture departments.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said the need for uniformity "is a bogus claim" that would nullify tougher consumer, environmental and public health laws.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office says it's not clear how far the bill would go. Still, CBO expects about 200 state laws would be affected.

The government would spend an estimated $100 million to answer states' requests to set tougher rules, CBO said.

A vote is expected this week in the House, where at least 226 lawmakers from both parties are supporting the bill. Despite the strong support, there is no companion bill in the Senate.