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House Republicans Move to Kill State Food Safety Labels on Foods

DECEMBER 14, 2005
9:47 AM

CONTACT: Center for Science in the Public Interest

House Republicans Mounting Attack on State Food Laws
Industry Lobbyists Want to Topple California's Prop. 65, but State
Officials Fear Bioterror Implications *

WASHINGTON - December 14 - Congressional Republicans are mounting an
assault on state food-safety and labeling laws, according to the Center
for Science in the Public Interest. The House Energy and Commerce
Committee is poised to take up legislation that would summarily pre-empt
almost 100 state laws having to do with carcinogen labeling, seafood
safety, and food allergens and additives. The measure is opposed by many
in the California delegation since it would interfere with that state's
Proposition 65, which requires warning notices on products that contain
ingredients known to cause cancer or birth defects. And state officials,
led by the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), fear that the
measure would hamper their abilities to respond to a bioterror attack
via the food supply.

"The food industry may find various state laws and regulations
inconvenient, but that's not a good reason to torch these laws in one
fell swoop," said Benjamin Cohen, CSPI senior staff attorney.
"Front-line public health officials should be getting more cooperation
and encouragement from Congress to protect public health, not less. This
bill is just payback to a politically powerful and financially generous

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would adversely
affect food safety and labeling requirements in almost 30 states and
cost the FDA more than $100 million over five years to implement a
system of waivers called for in the legislation. A Mississippi state law
that requires catfish products be labeled as farm-raised or wild would
go by the wayside. Laws governing smoked fish products would be scrapped
in New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And California's program to place
in-store notices about mercury in certain fish would similarly be
nullified if the National Uniformity for Food Act becomes law, according
to CSPI.

"Local and state regulatory agencies perform approximately 80 percent of
the food safety work currently done in the United States," wrote Marion
Aller, president of the Association of Food and Drug Officials AFDO, in
a December 5, 2005 letter to the committee. "When you consider that
local and state food safety programs are our first line of defense
against acts of terrorism involving the food supply, AFDO respectfully
suggests that now is not the time to dismantle our national food
protection program that maintains one of the safest food supplies in the

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer opposes the measure because of
its impact on Proposition 65 also. "Proposition 65 has an excellent
record of providing additional protection of public health within
California directly and by spurring greater action by FDA," Lockyer
wrote in 2003. "Federal preemption of this law and similar state
requirements is bad federalism, bad science, and bad public policy."