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Federal bill could wipe out state food-safety laws
Scripps Howard News Service


March 08, 2006

WASHINGTON - Consumer groups are fighting federal legislation giving Washington veto power over food-safety laws in the states.

They say more than 200 such state laws - ranging from those prohibiting sales of raw milk to warnings about eating raw seafood - would be wiped away by the legislation.

The food industry, which is pushing for the change, says the measure aims to establish a unified national policy for food labeling by requiring states to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for any food-safety laws.




The measure is already co-sponsored by 226 members of the House, and is expected to pass when it comes up for a vote. But state prosecutors and food inspectors are launching a last-minute lobbying blitz to try to scuttle it before it becomes law.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, one of 37 state attorneys general who are opposed to the legislation, said the new federal law would undercut landmark California legislation requiring food manufacturers to declare any cancer-causing or birth-defect-causing substances in their products.

"I think it's disgraceful," Lockyer said.

He said the California law, the product of Proposition 65 that voters adopted in 1986, has been used to prevent sales of lead-laden candy to children, lead in calcium supplements, and arsenic in bottled water. He said one of the greatest impacts of California's law has been behind the scenes, as manufacturers have voluntarily changed the makeup of products to avoid a label that would hurt sales.

"I think this law has been very, very helpful," he said.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, representing food inspectors, says that giving the FDA broader authority would weaken states' enforcement abilities. States conduct more than 80 percent of inspections and local enforcement, including provisions governing sales of raw milk. There is no federal prohibition against sales of raw milk in the states.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington interest group, this week released a list of more than 200 state laws the group said could be wiped away by the federal legislation.

Included on the list are Florida's laws alerting consumers to the dangers of eating raw shellfish, New Hampshire laws requiring maple syrup sold in that state to be made only from the sap of maple trees, New Jersey laws prohibiting the sale of candy with small amounts of alcohol to children, Colorado and Texas statutes limiting the amounts of coloring and additives in foods, and an Alabama law setting minimum nutritional standards for grits.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association charged that opponents are whipping up a campaign of misinformation, and said the legislation is intended only to establish national standards.

"If one state has better science or legislation, then they should bring it to the national level and it would apply to everyone," said Stephanie Childs, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Childs noted that under the proposed new federal law, states could ask the FDA for waivers to allow their particular laws to remain in effect, and states could continue to issue their own information on safety issues, as long as it doesn't involve changing federal labels or official warnings to consumers.

She acknowledged that some state laws would be overturned by the legislation, but that consumers would benefit from having "the best science-based food-safety standards."

Opponents and supporters of the legislation disputed its impact on some state laws.

In letters circulated to members of Congress, a leading supporter of the measure, Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Mich., said state laws warning consumers of the dangers of eating raw shellfish aren't covered. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., circulated a counter-letter this week insisting that the measure is so broadly drafted that it would be subject to an FDA veto.

Ben Cohen, an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the legislation can be read both ways and said the measure has never had a public hearing where problems like this could be aired. "Different people have read it differently," he said.


Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)

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