Senate committee approves food labeling uniformity bill.

A bill approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee would permit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to void state laws governing food and dietary-supplement safety. The bill, S.1155, the so-called "National Uniformity for Food Act of 2000," is sponsored by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kans.) and supported by the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA). Bruce Silverglade, director for legal affairs of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said the legislation "merely sets up a mechanism for the food industry to pressure the FDA to void state consumer protection laws, without requiring the agency to establish national requirements to fill the void left by the elimination of state laws." CSPI says that if the bill becomes law, it threatens important state laws in Illinois and Pennsylvania regulating the safety of eggs; laws in Florida and Louisiana requiring warning labels on raw shellfish; and laws in New York, Ohio, Georgia and California regulating the safety of dietary supplements.

However, GMA President C. Manly Molpus contends that the legislation "will provide uniform standards for food adulteration, misbranding and warning labels."

"This common sense consumer initiative finishes the work begun by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which provided national uniformity for nutrition and health claims labeling," he added. "The federal government already requires that state poultry and meat regulations conform to those established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Molpus said that the FDA has established a tough, comprehensive program of safety standards for foods sold in interstate commerce. He also noted, "Conflicting state laws that require different information than established by FDA create consumer confusion and could lead consumers to ignore all warnings."

During consideration of the bill, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S. Dak.) agreed to co-sponsor the legislation, as did Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N. Dak.). Thirty-six senators are co-sponsoring the bipartisan bill (S. 1155).