Mixed reaction as accountability act moves to Senate floor

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: iStock
Picture: iStock

Related tags: United states senate, Administrative law

Legislation dubbed by consumer groups as the ‘Filthy Food Act’ has been sent by a US Senate committee to the Senate floor.

The Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) will now be debated by the full chamber at a date which is yet to be set. Similar legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in January.

It would modernize the 70-year old Administrative Procedure Act.

Supporters say it aims to eliminate red tape, lift unnecessary burdens and to promote jobs and economic growth but those against believe it will block future legislation to improve areas such as food safety.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Environmental Working Group, Food & Water Watch and Food Policy Action had previously sent a letter to 11 companies​ urging them to reject the act.

Sarah Sorscher, CSPI chief regulatory affairs counsel, said the act would make it ‘nearly impossible’ for federal agencies to protect health and safety.

“The bill would affect every aspect of America’s food supply, undermining federal work to prevent bioterrorist attacks on our food sources, inspect meat and eggs for Salmonella, reduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat and poultry, and inform consumers about the content of the foods we eat.

“The bill would force government agencies to apply a cold financial calculus to every important decision, emphasizing costs to business over benefits to people.

“The bill also would effectively paralyze federal agencies by mandating burdensome trial-type hearings, allowing judges to decide the science rather than scientists, and by increasing political meddling by the White House in decisions. While rules now take years to develop, this bill would virtually stop agencies from acting at all.”

‘Risk to Americans Act’ or ​‘License to Kill’ bill

The Natural Resources Defense Council was one of 14 environmental groups which sent a letter to members of the US Senate urging them to oppose the RAA or what it called the ‘Risk to Americans Act’.

Nothing in the bill, for instance, would compel an agency to protect the public against predatory lending practices or foodborne illness. Instead, the RAA would make it virtually impossible for federal agencies to put into place common sense protections that benefit the environment, safety, public health, and economic stability,”​ the organisations said in the letter.

“The bill also would emphasize costs to industry over benefits to Americans and set up a system that is designed to shortchange the public​,” added the coalition which included Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, Friends of the Earth – US and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Scott Faber, EWG’s SVP for government affairs, said it is a ‘thinly disguised assault’ on the government’s ability to protect the public from dangerous products and ought to be called the ‘License to Kill’ bill.

“[If] the License to Kill bill were to become law, agencies like the FDA, USDA and OSHA would never be able to create new safeguards. Simply put, there is no greater legislative threat to consumers and workers than the RAA and similar bills."

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said it would require agencies to place cost considerations first.

The act also gives regulated entities the opportunity to manipulate the rulemaking process by requiring agencies analyze “any substantial alternatives” submitted by “interested persons,” added the think tank.

“Let us be clear: were the Regulatory Accountability Act to pass, corporate interests would benefit, and workers, consumers, and the environment would lose.”

Before the Senate Committee approved its passage, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) urged them to reject it saying it ‘would handcuff’ federal agencies in efforts to protect consumers.

“It prioritizes regulatory costs over regulatory effectiveness, adds burdensome new analytical requirements, and makes the rulemaking process more adversarial, favoring those powerful special interest groups with the resources to make the system work to their benefit.”

Some positive reaction

However, the bill did find some support.

Donna Harman, American Forest & Paper Association President and CEO, urged the Senate to quickly pass the legislation.

“America deserves a regulatory system that protects public interests with necessary protections, while also promoting innovation, economic growth, job creation and public confidence in government.

“A more transparent and accountable regulatory process, including a judicially-enforceable cost benefit test and the opportunity for public comment period on costly, complex proposals will serve our nation well for generations to come.”

The American Soybean Association (ASA) and other agriculture organizations sent a letter to Senators in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in support of the decision.

The Fertilizer Institute (TFI) said the act would ensure a transparent, accountable and common sense regulatory process.

“We understand and support the need for reasonable, science-based regulations, however the process by which laws are passed and implemented by Congress is too costly, confusing, and cumbersome,”​ said Chris Jahn, TFI president. 

“The time has come for Congress to act and modernize the regulatory process. The changes proposed in the RAA are a positive step in the right direction of ensuring the proper balance between workable regulations and addressing the needs and concerns of impacted stakeholders.”

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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