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6-Regulation: US House votes to override state food-label laws

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  US House votes to override state food-label laws
SOURCE: Reuters, by Charles Abbott
DATE:   09 Mar 2006

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US House votes to override state food-label laws

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Despite opposition from consumer groups and state
officials, the U.S. House passed a bill on Wednesday to create uniform
food labels nationwide at the cost, foes said, of overriding 200 state
food-safety laws.

Backers say a uniform standard is preferable to food safety warnings and
labeling rules that vary by state. The bill, passed 283-139, now goes to
the Senate.

While the food industry said the bill was aimed solely at simplifying
food labels, opponents forecast havoc. States would have to remove
warnings about dangerous items in foods, they said, and lose authority to
inspect and regulate food. States and localities do 80 percent of the
nation's food inspections.

"Within a matter of months, 200 state food safety laws would be wiped off
the books," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, because the
Food and Drug Administration would gain the power to "invalidate state
labeling laws."

Under the bill, states would need FDA approval for labeling requirements,
whether new or already in effect, that differ from federal standards.
Currently states can adopt warnings or label rules that exceed federal

"This bill is about protecting the food safety of every citizen in the
nation," said Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, sponsor of the bill. If a
warning has merit, he said, it should be applied nationwide.

Eleven senators have spoken against the bill, said Erik Olson of the
Natural Resources Defense Council, which opposes the bill. Olson said
there would be little Senate interest, with elections set for November,
in weakening public health protections.

Consumer warnings about mercury in fish, arsenic in bottled water, lead
in ceramic tableware and alcohol in candy are at jeopardy under the bill,
said 39 state attorneys general in a letter to Congress last week.

State health officers and agriculture departments said the bill would
compromise their power to inspect food plants, order the clean-up of
unsafe conditions or ban contaminated foods. Two consumer groups also
warned of the far reach of the bill.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association said critics misinterpreted the

"By providing consistent, science-based food safety standards and warning
requirements, all consumers will be able to have confidence in the safety
of the food supply and the information on food labels, regardless of
where they live," said GMA President Manly Molpus.

Before passing the bill, representatives approved amendments that would
soften the impact on states somewhat by:

--allowing states to set standards on adulteration or food tolerances if
the FDA has not acted on the issue;

--requiring expedited FDA review of state petitions that deal with
substances that may cause cancer or cause birth defects;

--letting states issue warnings about mercury in fish;

--barring the bill from becoming law if the Homeland Security Department
said it would weaken defenses against bioterrorism.

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
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