In SFA Victory, House Passes National Uniformity Bill
In a landmark vote and victory for the snack food industry, the House of Representatives on March 8 passed the National Uniformity for Food Act by a 283 to 139 vote.
This legislation would establish a single set of food safety standards and warning labels for all packaged foods sold in the United States. It also would address the acrylamide issue for potato chip manufacturers in California, and stop other states from creating their own patchwork of food safety laws.
“This is a major victory for the Snack Food Association and its members,” says SFA President & CEO Jim McCarthy. “Many of our members became actively engaged on this issue and called and otherwise contacted their representatives urging their support. We appreciate this very much. Many members of the House commented about the importance of these communications from back home.”
McCarthy adds that SFA and its industry partners now will focus on winning approval in the Senate. He said the legislation will be one of several important issues affecting the snack food industry that will be addressed at the 2006 SFA Day in D.C. Spring Summit, May 16-18, in Washington, D.C.
In recent months, mostly as a result of the ongoing acrylamide issue, SFA members have become painfully aware of the necessity to pass this critical legislation. On March 2, the bill was debated in the House of Representatives, and it was decided that amendments could be considered. SFA asked its members to contact their representatives in Congress to support the bill and to oppose any crippling amendments.
“Passage of this legislation is a top priority for SFA members,” McCarthy says. “We [lobbied] hard to win approval and to get this bill sent to President Bush for his signature.”
SFA is an active member of the “National Uniformity for Food Coalition,” found at www.nationaluniformity.org. The Web site, co-sponsored by SFA and other coalition partners, also contains briefing materials discussing this issue.
Essentially, the National Uniformity for Food Act would provide a single set of national food safety standards and warning requirements for packaged foods.
Indeed, a vast majority of consumers believe the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has final or ultimate authority over food safety standards and warning labels on packaged food. In reality, each of the 50 states also has the ability to require its own warning labels separately and apart from FDA’s requirements.
“This multi-tiered regulatory environment is highly inefficient, and serves to confuse, rather than educate, consumers,” McCarthy explains. “With food production and distribution being truly national — products made in one state and distributed in all fifty — manufacturers and consumers have a right to expect that rational, scientifically based, and consistent standards will apply.”
Conflicting rules in adjacent states can cause considerable confusion for consumers, McCarthy adds. “The result could be that consumers simply ‘tune out’ legitimate safety concerns,” he explains.
With the growth of new sources of food from overseas, domestic manufacturers introduce thousands of new products each year. As a result, the need for faster communications and transportation and a national food safety system is greater today than it was even 10 years ago, according to the SFA and other advocates of the bill.
The National Uniformity for Food Act amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to create a uniform, national system that not only recognizes the role of state and local government in the regulation of food products, but also integrates them into the national system.
The bill requires that state and federal food safety laws be substantially the same, and that any differences in language not result in the imposition of materially different requirements. The law would prohibit states from requiring warnings on food labels that differ from those imposed at the federal level.
By establishing a single national system based on comprehensive science-based standards, Congress would give consumers and businesses clarity about what is safe, what is permissible and what needs to be labeled.
The uniformity bill harmonizes existing and potential state regulations to conform to the best scientific evidence available. For most states, there would be no change because they already have laws that are consistent with federal standards.
The legislation ensures that FDA incorporates states’ best practices in packaged food safety standards and warning labels, and allows states to continue to carry out sanitation inspections and enforcement.
The uniformity bill also creates an opportunity for states to petition FDA to adopt their own regulations as the national standard, or to seek an exemption from national uniformity. A state’s requirements would remain in effect while FDA considers the state’s petition. Where there are no federal requirements, the states may proceed without concern for uniformity.