Marian Burros of the New York Times reports that the U.S. House is, according to the AP, expected to vote Thursday on a bill that would pre-empt all state food safety regulations that are more stringent than federal standards.
According to the National Uniformity for Food Coalition, whose members include trade associations, supermarket chains and food manufacturers, different laws in different states confuse consumers, stating on its web site that, “The citizens of all states deserve the same level of food safety. Food cannot be safe in one state and unsafe in another.”
But critics of the measure — including state departments of agriculture, state food and drug officials, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the California attorney general and a long list of consumer advocacy groups — say it would gut all state regulations, including food safety investigations and sanitation standards for restaurants. In some instances, they say, the bill would replace regulations with nothing because there are no federal standards.
In particular, the bill would pre-empt California’s Proposition 65, a 1986 law that requires consumer notification about contaminants known to cause cancer or birth defects.
The California law, which led to the reduction of arsenic in bottled water and lead in calcium supplements nationwide, has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to tighten federal standards over the years. Most recently, the state has required warnings for pregnant women about mercury in certain fish.
In a letter opposing the bill, the Association of Food and Drug Officials, an organization of state regulators, was cited as saying that proponents of the bill had misinterpreted it and that it extended well beyond uniform labeling, adding, “Under this bill, a state cannot have any law, not just a food law, which is not identical to the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.”
The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture also opposes the bill. In a letter to members of the House, the president of the association, J. Carlton Courter III, said the bill “threatens existing food safety programs,” including milk, retail food protection and shellfish sanitation. About 80 percent of food safety inspections in the United States are conducted at state and local levels.
Stephanie Childs, spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, was quoted as saying, “The legislation addresses only food safety tolerances and warning label requirements. It does not relate to other state labeling requirements.”