US House Approves Controversial “Food-Safety” Bill

Despite the efforts of public-health organizations, environmental groups and activist, by a vote of 283 to 139, the US House of Repressentatives last night passed HR 4167, the National Uniformity for Food Act of 2005. If the measure wins Senate approval and is signed by George Bush, it will in effect nullify any local or state food-safety law that is more stringent than federal regulations.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

The vote was a victory for the food industry, which has lobbied for years for national standards for food labeling and contributed millions of dollars to lawmakers’ campaigns. But consumer groups and state regulators warned that the bill would undo more than 200 state laws, including California’s landmark Proposition 65, that protect public health.

“The purpose of this legislation is to keep the public from knowing about the harm they may be exposed to in food,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, a chief critic of the measure.

Several critics argued that the bill was rushed through the House without complete hearings as a favor to a specific industry — at the same time that members are talking about the evils of lobbying and proposing stricter ethical rules.

Under the bill, any state that wanted to keep its own tougher standards for food labeling would have to ask for approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which has been criticized by food safety groups as slow to issue consumer warnings.

The measure was approved after a debate in which House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco accused the Republican majority of “shredding the food safety net that we have built in this country.”

Pelosi’s accusation seems a bit specious to me. HR enjoyed bipartisan support from its introduction last year, numerous Democrats voted for it, and there was some Republican opposition to the legislation.

The resolution now moves to the US Senate, where it is expected to have a more difficult time.

California’s two Democratic senators are threatening to block the bill from coming to the Senate floor. A group of 39 state attorneys general, including many Republicans, has warned of the consequences of the measure. State food and drug regulators and agricultural officials also are urging the Senate to reject the bill.

Let’s hope the Senate has the sense to allow localities a say in protecting the health of their citizens.

In the meantime, there is time for action: I implore anyone concerned about food safety and public health to contact senators via the Congressional Switchboard, 202-224-3121, and in writing (see the Contact Congress lookup service in the Action Alert Center in this page’s right column). Urge them to vote NO on the National Uniformity for Food Act.

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