Mar. 1, 2006 – A bill purportedly designed to create a universal food-labeling standard would, according to consumer advocates, actually undercut laws already in place across the nation. The House of Representatives may vote on the measure as soon as Thursday.
Introduced last October by Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), the National Uniformity for Food Act of 2005 bars state and local governments from establishing their own food-labeling requirements on products regulated under federal interstate-commerce laws. The law would allow exemptions for imminent public health hazards and permit states to seek specific exemptions from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill is awaiting a floor vote after clearing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. In a statement announcing committee approval, Rogers said the bill is needed to "integrate" state laws into a national standard.
"Today we have a patchwork of food-safety laws, differing from state to state," Rogers said. "Creating a uniform system assures Americans that no matter where they live or travel in the nation, they can depend on food labels to reflect the contents of food and the potential for reactions to certain contents."
In restricting local food labels, the act could effectively throw out well over 100 state food safety laws, according to information compiled by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a progressive think tank that deals almost exclusively with consumer goods. Everything from cautions about sulfite allergens in food products to regulations governing the safety of milk and other dairy products could be struck down or altered by the federal law.
Many states maintain higher food-safety and labeling standards than the federal government requires, California Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer noted in a joint statement earlier this month warning that the bill would gut a landmark California food-safety labeling law. That law, known as proposition 65, requires advisories on foods containing potentially dangerous substances, like lead, which according to the US Food and Drug Administration, has been found in certain varieties of Mexican candy.
The National Uniformity for Food Coalition, a collection over 100 industry groups, backs the bill, saying it will provide much-needed standardization of food labeling.
"Manufacturers and consumers have a right to expect that rational, scientifically based, and consistent standards will apply," argues the Coalition on its website. "The citizens of all states deserve the same level of food safety. Something cannot be safe in one state and unsafe in another."
But a number of public health groups oppose the bill, including the National Environmental Trust (NET), Physicians for Social Responsibility and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).
In a statement earlier this month, NEHA said: "There is no question in our minds that the adoption of this legislation, in its current form, will destroy the ability of state and local food protection programs to identify and resolve situations involving adulterated food products. It will also destroy our ability to tailor these programs to the particular needs and circumstances of the communities we serve."