The House of Representatives this month stuffed 200 state and local food safety regulations down the disposal. Lower-chamber passage of the National Uniformity for Food Act was a victory for agribusiness and a blow to consumers. This law should die in the Senate.
The law would scrap almost every state-written regulation about what warnings food marketers must put on their labels or post in stores -- things like listing the arsenic levels in bottled water or the lead content of candies. Instead, labels would have to comply with a uniform national standard set by the Food and Drug Administration. While a national standard could make sense, these new rules will likely be far less consumer friendly.
Here's the argument for it: Having to comply with different labeling rules in different states drives up costs for big food firms that do business regionally and nationally. Theoretically, that means an FDA standard that matches the toughest of the state standards would be just fine with the industry.
However, industry lobbyists basically wrote this bill. Its main target is California's stringent Proposition 65 food regulations, but New York state mandates on issues from label warnings to smoked-fish processing also are threatened.
Cost worries should be taken with a state-labeled grain of salt. Corporate members of the National Uniformity for Food Coalition -- who employed high-powered D.C. lobbyists with family or former-worker ties to key House members -- made $3 million in campaign contributions in the last election cycle and have made $31 million in such contributions since 1998.
And although more than 70 Democrats also voted for this bill, it's largely a Republican measure. The party of small government and states' rights had to again abandon those principles to do another industry favors. Opposed to it were 39 state attorneys general including New York's Eliot Spitzer, the National Association of Departments of Agriculture and the Association of Food and Drug Officials. All were denied testimony at hearings -- because none were held.
The best opponents could do was add some minor amendments. Fortunately, this bill faces a tougher test in the Senate. Here's hoping it shreds this pork-like substance, before consumers get labeled as losers.