September 28, 2004
UNIFORMLY A DISASTER FOR CONSUMERS!
I am writing to express Consumers Union’s strong opposition to H.R. 2699, the National Uniformity for Food Act of 2003, which may be marked up by the Committee on Energy and Commerce later this week. This legislation would be a disaster for consumers because it would undermine the authority of food safety officers on the state level, where much of this nation’s food safety enforcement takes place. Less state-level enforcement would surely mean a greater likelihood of food-borne illness adversely affecting more consumers.
Every year 76 million Americans suffer from food poisoning. 5,000 of them will die. The stakes are only growing now that mad cow disease has been discovered in the United States. Moreover, the possible threat of terrorism directed at our food supply is very real. Now is the time to be strengthening our efforts to detect unsafe food products before they reach grocery store shelves. Instead, H.R. 2699 weakens those efforts by divesting states of much of the authority to do what is necessary to protect their citizens from deadly food-borne pathogens. 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 illness. States would be required to petition FDA to enforce state laws or regulations that are not identical to their federal equivalents. Reviewing such requests will also impose a large cost to 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.
Director, Consumer Policy Institute