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How Big Corporations are Taking Away Your Right to Know What's in Your Food

Journal Star

More food labeling needed, not less By Alan Guebert

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Given the sad state of affairs in today's affairs of state < record federal budget deficits, record trade deficits, illegal domestic eavesdropping < one would think the U.S. House of

Representatives has more important problems to address than a proposal to
virtually wipe out state food labeling laws.

Well, actually, the biggest fish fried by the House March 8 was just that:
the National Uniformity for Food Act of 2005.

The uniformity act is a fat, old carp multinational food firms have been
selling Congress for years. The goal is to override nearly 200 state laws
and make the Food and Drug Administration the final word for food labeling
on everything from fruit to nuts.

(The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture controls meat and poultry.)

The Grocery Gang¹s pitch is deceptively simple: American consumers are
confused by a web of state and federal rules on food labels. What¹s needed
is a streamlined, "science-based food safety standards" system and uniform,
national warning labels so "consumers will be able to have confidence in the
safety of the food supply..." according to Big Food's biggest lobbyist, the
Grocery Manufacturers Association.

If that explanation is read more slowly a second time < slowly enough to
keep your eyes focused during the classic Capitol Hill spin cycle < what the
association really wants is less regulation and less labeling.

The proposal known as H.R. 4167, is not a simple food-safety uniformity
bill, according to the non-profit, independent Consumers Union Feb. 15.

"Under the guise of national "uniformity," this bill would eliminate
critical state laws that protect consumer health while leaving in place an
inadequate federal system based on the lowest common denominator
protection," opines the CU.

Consumers Union isn¹t the only national voice in opposition to watering down
local food safety and food labeling laws. Attorneys general of 39 states
sent a joint letter to Congress noting the uniformity labeling proposal
³eviscerates² important consumer warnings now carried on labels in their

The proposal drew similar fire from the National Association of State
Departments of Agriculture. Its current president, J. Carlton Courter III,
Virginia¹s state ag director, notes the proposal "threatens existing food
safety programs in the states" where, he adds, 80 percent of all U.S. food
inspections occur.

Not surprising, the Grocery Manufacturers disparage such claims with soft
and soothing silliness. The uniformity law is "common-sense legislation"
that helps "families in an ever-changing, confusing food labeling

Despite this warm and fuzzy effort to help the seemingly helpless, the House
Energy and Commerce Committee which passed the legislation Dec. 15 on a
30-18 party-line vote, saw no need to sort out this confusing environment
with public hearings. The GOP-dominated committee simply imposed the change
and pushed the legislation on to the House floor.

The full House voted 283-138 to approve it on Wednesday.

How the nearly $700-billion-a-year food and beverage lobby got the radical
change this far is instructive. "It simply came back year after year after
year," explains Ronnie Cummins with the Organic Consumers Association. "The
first letter I wrote Congress to oppose eliminating state food labeling
rules was in 1997."

This time, however, the favor seekers formed a rich, well-manicured
Astroturf lobby, called the National Uniformity for Food Coalition, to give
the appearance the proposal had vast, well-manicured grassroots support.

Grassroots support from Coalition members like Cargill, the American Meat
Institute, ConAgra, Dean Foods, Hormel, the National Cattlemen's Beef
Association and the National Pork Producers Council.

The latter, you may recall, have opposed federal country of origin labeling
but now want federal oversight of all food labeling.

Why in the world when all empirical evidence shows more food labeling, not
less, sells more food more quickly and at higher prices would the pork and
beef producers endorse Big Agbiz's plan to run states out of food labeling?

Ask Oem next time you¹re asked to either join Oem or renew your membership.

In the meantime, farmers and ranchers should be fighting for more labeling,
not less, that boosts prices and ensures their products¹ origin, safety and

Alan Guebert is a freelance agricultural journalist. He can be reached at <> or at 21673 Lago Dr.,
Delavan, IL 61734.