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Bill hindering states’ ability to protect food safety advances

Jean Halloran
(914) 378-2457

Committee passes bill hindering states’ ability to protect food safety

A ‘disaster’ for consumers, H.R. 2699 may prevent local
health departments from enforcing sanitary laws at restaurants

WASHINGTON, DC — While the nation is preoccupied with other matters, a congressional committee took a step on Sept. 30 that would undermine the authority of state food safety officers to enforce food safety laws, possibly endangering the food supply of American consumers.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee passed H.R. 2699, the National Uniformity for Food Act, paving the way for a possible vote in the full House of Representatives before Congress adjourns for the year. The measure would prevent states from enforcing their own food safety laws unless they are “identical” to federal law. Since few states laws are identical, the bill would take state and local health departments out of food safety enforcement.
“This bill would be a disaster for consumers,” said Jean Halloran, director of Consumers Union’s Consumer Policy Institute. “State and local health departments do hundreds of food safety jobs, from inspecting local restaurants to ensuring the safety of shellfish and the quality of Grade A milk. This bill could make it impossible for them to protect the public in these areas.”
Every year 76 million Americans suffer from food poisoning, and 5,000 die from it. The stakes are only growing now that mad cow disease has been discovered in the United States. Moreover, this bill would actually slow state response to any potential terrorist threats to the food supply when state laws are not identical to federal law.
“Now is the time to strengthen, not weaken, our efforts to detect unsafe food products at the local level before they reach grocery store shelves,” Halloran said. “Most food safety enforcement takes place at the local level, with thousands of inspections and lab tests performed every year.”
H.R. 2699 would:
· Prevent a state from enforcing its food safety laws unless they are “identical” to federal law – meaning that states will spend time and money wrangling with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or worse, in court litigating, over whether or not their current laws are identical to federal laws, rather than protecting their citizens. Otherwise, they’re going to have to go through the time and expense to amend laws and regulations that are already effectively helping them get the job of protecting consumers done.
· Create massive hurdles for states to jump through if they feel that the federal government isn’t doing enough to protect their citizens from food-borne illnesses. States would be required to petition FDA before they can enforce state laws or regulations that are not identical to their federal equivalents. Reviewing such requests will also impose a large cost upon the FDA.
· Slow state response to any potential terrorist threats to the food supply if their laws are not “identical” to federal law. Indeed, the Association of Food and Drug Officials oppose H.R. 2699 because they believe it “will undermine our whole food safety and biosurveillance capability.”
· Hinder state efforts to remedy food safety concerns before they affect consumers.
· Stop states from creating food labels – such as any noting that products have been tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) – if they are not identical to federal labels.
Consumers Union, the independent, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, has called on members of the Energy and Commerce Committee to oppose H.R. 2699 when it comes up at today’s markup session. Should the bill be approved by the Committee, the group will oppose any attempt to bring it to a vote in the full House of Representatives.
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Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is an independent nonprofit testing, educational and information organization serving only the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public and protect consumers.