Food industry groups dispute claims on food warning label bill
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Food industry groups that want the same food warning labels to be used nationwide disputed claims Monday that such a requirement would pre-empt some 200 state laws.
That was the argument from critics last month when the House passed legislation that would prevent states from requiring food warnings that go beyond federal law. States could petition the Food and Drug Administration to add extra warnings, under the bill.
But the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Products Association released a study Monday contending that only 11 state laws would be affected.
``They allege that this legislation would wipe away hundreds of state food safety laws. That simply is not true,'' C. Manly Molpus, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said at a press conference.
Democrats and consumer groups stood by the higher number, arguing that in fact more than 200 laws probably would be affected that alert consumers to mercury in fish, arsenic in bottled water, pesticides in vegetables and many other potential problems.
The bill, which passed the House on a 283-139 vote, was subjected to so little scrutiny that its effects _ including its impact on local laws _ remain unclear, critics said.
``Lawyers in, as I understand it, at least 11 different states have looked at the actual bill _ not the talking points but the actual bill _ and they have said their laws are at risk,'' said Benjamin Cohen, a staff attorney at Center for Science in the Public Interest, which released the list of 196 state laws that the industry is disputing.
In its analysis, Center for Science in the Public Interest counts notifications required in some states _ for example about farm-raised salmon _ that industry groups say wouldn't be covered. The industry says the legislation applies only to warnings, not notifications. But critics contend such notifications would end up being covered.
Thirty-nine state attorneys general have come out against the bill, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his opposition last week. Californians see the main target of the law as their Proposition 65, which state voters approved in 1986 to require businesses to provide warnings when they expose consumers to known reproductive toxins.
Proposition 65 is one of the laws the industry agreed is covered.
``We don't think California ought to dictate national food labeling,'' Molpus said.
It's not clear how the legislation will fare in the senate. Senate Health Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., opposes the House bill as written because of concerns from committee members about the pre-emption of state laws, said his spokesman, Craig Orfield.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is expected to introduce a food labeling bill that's similar to the House version, but Enzi hasn't decided whether to hold hearings, Orfield said.