Described by supporters as “raising the bar” in food safety standards, the National Uniformity for Food Act could in fact abolish decades of state consumer food safety protections, even in areas where the federal government has failed to act. It should be defeated.
Proponents of the legislation have been characterizing H.R. 4167 as a pro-consumer bill. This simply is not true. The bill could lead to increased food-borne illnesses by handcuffing local and state food safety inspectors and wiping out at least 200 state labeling and food safety laws without guaranteeing strong federal protections.
The food industry’s campaign for H.R. 4167 is based on half truths and misinformation:
• Myth: The bill would help consumers by replacing a confusing regulatory system with a single set of food safety and warning standards coordinated by the Food and Drug Administration.
THE TRUTH: This bill will not help consumers. The FDA’s national authorities are limited in the food safety area, and the agency is already overburdened, underfunded, and understaffed. The states have been leading the way in the food safety area. In fact, several states have enacted strong protections where the federal government has failed to act. For example, states require labels for cancer-causing substances and ensure the safety of shellfish, milk and other household foods. Such protections are best left at the state and local level where local officials know the state’s products, hazards and consumers best.
• Myth: The bill would strike a balance between states’ rights and consumers’ need for food safety information that is consistent from state to state. In instances where an existing state standard is different from the national standard, any state can ask the FDA to either be exempted or to set the state’s standard as the national standard.
THE TRUTH: H.R. 4167 is a sweeping rollback of state authority to protect consumers. A state’s laws can only stay in place if the state jumps through federal bureaucratic hoops in a lengthy, burdensome, and expensive process. According to CBO, the process would cost FDA $100 million over five years – and that doesn’t even include the cost to states.
• Myth: The bill covers only food safety and warning information for packaged food, and other state food laws are exempt, including such items as those covering the ‘’sanitation of pecans and notices as to whether fish is fresh or frozen.’’
THE TRUTH: The bill is extremely broad. Independent analyses by 39 Attorneys General other state officials indicate that the bill covers “food,” and is not limited to packaged food. CBO has stated that 200 state laws would be impacted. Many of these laws protect consumers in areas not covered by Federal law. Important consumer warnings dealing with mercury in fish, arsenic in drinking water, and lead in cans are just a few examples of the state laws that would be tossed out.
• Myth: Under the bill, states and localities, not the FDA, will continue to conduct sanitation inspections and enforce regulations covering food and milk preparation/service at local establishments.
THE TRUTH: H.R. 4167 nullifies any state laws allowing states to take action against adulterated or contaminated food if state law is not “identical” to federal law. State officials are currently empowered to seize spoiled food after a hurricane, ensure seafood safety, and ensure safe operations at dairies. This bill could change all that. According to the Association of Food and Drug Officials, it is essential that states retain their authority to respond to contaminated products without seeking Federal permission.
• Myth: Under the bill, warnings concerning the consumption of shellfish, important to many consumers, are exempt. States remain free to require these warnings as they deem appropriate.
THE TRUTH: At least 16 states have shellfish safety laws, and officials at the state level have repeatedly expressed concern about their ability to enforce such laws under this bill. According to the National Association of the State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), “food inspection enforcement laws relating to . . . shellfish would be preempted.”
• Myth: This bill would raise the bar on food safety standards because they would be based on expert, consensus review, ensuring that sound science, not politics or fads, drive policy.
THE TRUTH: Strong food safety protections are not a “fad.” H.R. 4167 will actually lower food safety protections to the lowest common denominator. States have led the way in the food safety area. For instance, it was California law that led to the reduction of arsenic in bottled water and lead in calcium supplements throughout the United States. This bill will bring a radical change to science-based state and local food safety activities and laws. It will upend state safety standards for foods such as milk, eggs, and shellfish, and laws authorizing inspection and protection of foods, restaurants, schools, nursing homes, and other food establishments.
For more information, please contact Susanna Montezemolo at (202) 462-6262.