Libby Quaid of the The Associated Press reports that hundreds of warnings on food labels could vanish under a measure moving toward approval in the House.
The bill would stop states from adding warnings that are different from federal rules. States currently add hundreds of extra warnings, indicating the presence of arsenic in water, mercury in fish, alcohol in candy, pesticides in vegetables and more.
“This would be the most sweeping change in decades to our nation’s efforts to protect the food supply,” Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Thursday during House debate on the bill.
The food industry wants consistent warnings across state lines to reduce the cost of making many different labels. The industry has attracted broad support in the House, where a majority is co-sponsoring the bill.
“Consumers across the country deserve a single set of science-based food warning requirements, not the confusing patchwork that we have today,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
Supporters argued there is national uniformity in plenty of food laws, such as those governing meat and poultry safety to nutrition labels and health claims.
And they pointed out the bill would let states petition the federal government if they want to add extra warnings.
Lawmakers postponed a vote until next week. The measure is expected to clear the House but stall in the Senate, because no senator has introduced similar legislation.
Still, state officials across the country are worried. Attorneys general from 37 states wrote lawmakers Wednesday in opposition to the measure.
The obvious target, they wrote, is California’s Proposition 65, a law passed by voters requiring companies to warn the public of potentially dangerous toxins in food. The law has prompted California to file lawsuits seeking an array of warnings, including mercury on canned tuna and lead in Mexican candy.
“Food safety has been largely a matter of state law and oversight for well more than a century,” the attorneys general wrote.
State and local officials perform about 80 percent of all food safety enforcement in the United States, they said.
Also among the foes are the associations of state food and drug officials, state agriculture departments and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 200 state laws would be affected. The government would spend at least $100 million to answer petitions for tougher state rules, CBO said.