Progress in Washington But Your Help is Needed

Finally, we have some movement in Congress on a bill that is absolutely critical to our industry. And, I’d like to say, it’s about time.
The legislation, known as the National Uniformity for Food Act of 2005, has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) with an impressive 164 cosponsors. SFA and other food organizations have championed this bill for a number of years, but this time we think we can succeed.
Its purpose is to provide for national uniform food safety standards and warning requirements to eliminate the mishmash of state laws, such as California’s Proposition 65 law, that make it virtually impossible for companies with interstate distribution to comply without excessive cost and mind-bending red tape.
Under the current system, food regulation is composed of a variety of differing, and sometimes inconsistent, requirements. The bill seeks to harmonize those differences to achieve national uniformity. The legislation still recognizes the role of state and local governments in the regulation of food products, but also integrates them into the national system.
The bill also would provide for national uniformity in product warnings. States would not be permitted to require the regulated industry to communicate a warning in labeling, advertising or any other form of public communication if that warning differs from that imposed under Federal law.
The authority of the states to issue warnings remains unhindered. States remain free to issue their own public warnings under state laws at any time and under any circumstance.
Certainly, this law is needed to bring some order and common sense to this situation.
Just last week, it was reported that McDonald’s Corp. is planning to put nutrition information about its food, including fat, sodium and caloric content, on the packaging of most of its menu items. Now that’s probably a good thing. Why not? Our companies do it.
The announcement comes in the aftermath of a lawsuit against McDonald’s by plaintiffs who claim that the fast food company’s products made them fat. The case was thrown out of court in Manhattan, but an appeals court revived it in January. Now, a federal judge has told the plaintiffs that they need to show a connection between their injuries and eating McDonald’s food.
Again, help is on the way in Congress. Just recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to limit the ability of plaintiffs to bring frivolous lawsuits against restaurants and food manufacturers for causing obesity. Now, we must get this bill through the Senate and enacted into law so these frivolous lawsuits will end. SFA has been very active in endorsing this bill, which was a subject of our Day in Washington last spring.
On another important front, our president and CEO, Jim McCarthy, and our Capitol Hill strategist Mike Torrey have revived efforts to defeat the country of origin labeling of snack peanuts. Through a coalition SFA helped create, we have gotten Congress to agree to a two-year delay until October 2008. We hope to eliminate this unnecessary labeling requirement altogether over the next two years.
I hope you will do everything you can to help SFA with its important work in Washington. McCarthy and Torrey are working Capitol Hill, hoping to develop support for national uniformity, and SFA sent an Action Alert to members asking for help. Please, don’t sit on the sidelines on this one.
Robert J. Shearer
SFA Chairman of the Board
President & CEO
Shearer’s Foods