- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Consumers nationwide could soon see uniform food-safety standardsand warning labels for packaged food. The National Uniformity for Food Act (HR 4167) passed with a strong bipartisan majority and is on its way to the Senate, where a similar measure was reported unanimouslyout of the Agriculture Committee five years ago. HR 4167 establishes a sensible approach to improving public health and providing consumers with consistent food-safety information, continuing the trend that set up uniform national labeling standards for nutritional information and allergens.

Currently, all 50 states, as well as the federal Food and DrugAdministration (FDA), may impose different and sometimes contradictory food-safety regulations. This patchwork of standards is a recipe for consumer confusion. It also imposes unnecessary costs on food processors and manufacturers, which have to spend significant time and money dealing with state regulatory agencies and trial lawyers on food ingredient issues.

Consumers pay for this constant negotiation among competing interests because it drains the food industry’s financial and human resources that could be used instead for research and development, job creation or expanded employee benefits. In addition, taxpayers have to pick up the tab for implementing often duplicative and unnecessary regulations.

California’s Proposition 65 is an example. The statute requires businesses nationwide to provide warnings if their products expose anyone in California to a detectable amount of any one of the more than 750 chemicals listed pursuant to the statute. This law costs California taxpayers millions of dollars in regulatory and legal enforcement efforts to “protect” them from chemicals — many of which, such as lead and mercury, are already regulated by federal government agencies — and others which pose no significant health threat.

Proposition 65, originally passed as a ballot initiative to protect local drinking-water supplies, often relies on selective science and political pressure from special-interest groups. For example, acrylamide — a byproduct created during the cooking of foods we have safely eaten for years, including bread, cereal and almonds — has been deemed to pose no significant risk by the FDA, the World Health Organization, the European Union and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. But under Proposition 65, all foods with even a trace amount of this naturally occurring chemical would have to carry warning labels.

Establishing science-supported uniform food-safety standards would be a positive step for the nation’s consumers. National standards based on credible scientific information would forestall the risk of unjustified food safety actions currently being considered in some states.

In New Mexico, for example, now-discredited research being widely circulated on the Internet was used to justify a proposed statewide ban on aspartame, the key ingredient in many low-calorie foods and beverages — despite recent statements from the FDA, the EU and the American Association of Cancer Research reaffirming aspartame’s safety.

The National Uniformity for Food Act puts our nation’s food safety in the hands of national experts on the subject. These specialists would oversee the research, evaluation and prioritization of food safety-standards and issue the best possible safety regulations.

The bill provides for a thorough, orderly review of existing state regulations that may differ from federal regulations, and reaffirms the key role that state and local governments play in ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply. A recent legal analysis indicates that only 11 state laws would be affected by this uniformity provision — most of them duplicative or outdated ones.

The public should be given accurate information about this commonsense legislation designed to ensure that consumers nationwide receive science-supported, consistent food-safety information. And citizens should not be subject to one state using its market power to impose scientifically limited food-safety regulations nationwide. Uniform national food-safety labeling is a consumer initiative that is long overdue.

John Frydenlund is the food and agriculture policy director for Citizens Against Government Waste.

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