9 Sponsors Abandon Highly Controversial Bill Before the Vote

WASHINGTON (March 8, 2006) -- Threatening the health of millions of Americans by buckling to the power of special interest money and insider lobbying, the U.S. House of Representatives today approved controversial legislation that would effectively eliminate more than 200 state food safety and public health protections.

"The House is trampling crucial health safeguards in every state without so much as a single public hearing," said Erik D. Olson, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "This just proves the old adage 'money talks.' The food industry spared no expense to assure its passage."

Voting on the so-called "National Uniformity for Food Act" was postponed last week because of an outpouring of opposition from 39 attorneys general, numerous state food safety and agriculture officials, governors, and health, consumer, and environmental groups. Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate and at least seven senators have already announced their opposition.

In fact nine cosponsors of the legislation reversed their support and voted against the House bill today.

Spotlighting the stealth legislation, NRDC last week hand-delivered bottles of a well-known pink stomach remedy to House members and their staffs with a special label warning that "H.R. 4167 side effects may include vomiting, diarrhea, birth defects, cancer and worse."

"If there is good news here, it is that the mounting opposition of state officials casts a great deal of doubt over the future of the bill in the Senate," Olson said. "I can't imagine the Senate wanting to pick up this bill with a ten-foot fork."

There have been no public hearings to examine the scope of this legislation, which would override many state food safety measures that are stronger or broader in scope than federal law. The lack of debate has opened the door for the food industry to spread misinformation about the sweeping impacts of this bill on public health and states rights.

"Shredding the Food Safety Net," a report released yesterday by NRDC and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, reviews the nearly 200 state food safety laws that would be preempted by this legislation. For example, it would override numerous state safety standards for milk, shellfish and other foods, and laws authorizing inspection and protection of certain foods, restaurants, and food service establishments. A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

The food industry has spent more than $81 million in campaign contributions to members of the House and Senate since 2000, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics (more detail available from NRDC upon request). And the Associated Press reported on widespread insider lobbying for the bill, including lawmakers' spouses and family members as well as former congressional staff.

States have long had primary responsibility for our nation's food safety enforcement, but this bill would automatically override any state measure that is stronger than the federal law. And in many cases, there are no federal rules at all. It also severely restricts states' ability to create new food safety protections.

At least 200 laws protecting consumers from chemical additives, bacteria and certain ingredients that can trigger allergic reactions would be effectively barred. These would include alerts about chemical contamination in fish, health protection standards for milk and eggs, and warnings about chemicals or toxins, such as arsenic, mercury and lead, which can cause cancer, birth defects, or other ill effects.

The state waiver process created by the bill would be cumbersome and costly, imposing substantial financial burdens on both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and states seeking to avoid having their food safety rules eliminated. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has called the bill's scope "ambiguous," but estimated that if enacted it would cost FDA $100 million to implement -- funds that would be better spent improving the security of our food supply, says NRDC. The CBO report can be found here.