National Uniformity Coalition strikes back at bill opponents

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food safety, United states congress

The National Uniformity for Food Coalition this week released a
legal analysis that claims the proposed legislation would only
affect 11 state laws as part of an effort to set national standards
for food safety regulations.

The move marks the next step in an ongoing debate between supporters and opponents of the controversial new bill.

The National Uniformity for Food Act, which was last month approved in the House of Representatives and is now due to be considered by the Senate, would establish a federal standard for all food safety requirements and warning labels, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Individual states would no longer be permitted to require labels or warnings that differ from those set out by the FDA.

However, opponents to the legislation claim the new regulations would preempt over 200 state food safety protections where these are not identical to federal standards. These, they say, are often more stringent than federal laws.

But supporters of the proposed rule this week responded by releasing a legal analysis that states "the uniformity provision of the proposed legislation in fact would be triggered by only 11 existing state rules."

They claim the rest of the rules cited by the bill's opponents would not be affected because the bill does not preempt state laws on issues such as food sanitation, nutrition standards and response to immediate food safety risks.

The bill, they say, is "narrowly crafted to address only food safety standards and warning labels."

The legal analysis was conducted by John Bode, a principal with Olsson Frank & Weeda, and Stuart Pope, a managing partner at Patton Boggs.

"The safety of the American food supply is too important to rely on a patchwork approach. This legislation will improve the existing partnership between state and federal food safety professionals, and bring to bear the best science to protect consumers equally nationwide,"​ said C. Manly Molpus, president and chief executive officer of the industry body Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)

"It's time for the bill's opponents to stop spreading misinformation in an attempt to defeat this important piece of legislation."

One state law that could be particularly affected by the National Uniformity for Food Act is California's Proposition 65, which requires that food manufacturers alert customers about the existence of cancer-causing compounds in food.

Just last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined the opposition camp when he sent a letter to California's Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, which expressed "deep concern regarding the potential consequences this legislation could have on our consumers and public health."

Senator Feinstein, together with Senator Barbara Boxer also denounced the bill at a news conference on Wednesday, and vowed to oppose it when it comes before the Senate.

Consumer advocacy groups have also added their voice to the fierce debate.

"This is a terrible, terrible bill,"​ said Elisa Odabashian, senior policy analyst of Consumer's Union, the non-profit publishers Consumer Reports magazine.

"The food industry has been trying to kill Prop. 65 for a number of years. This is another attempt,"​ she told FoodNavigator-USA.com.

But despite the opposition it is receiving from various sources, the bill was supported by 283 Members of Congress, representing 44 states.

It is also attracting strong support from the industry, including major ingredients and food firms such as Cargill, ConAgra Foods and General Mills. These claim that the bill takes a "measured, science based approach, to achieve national uniformity"​ through an "orderly review and harmonization of existing state food adulteration laws and warnings."

Related topics: Food labelling

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