WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress' final weeks to establish national uniformity in food labeling has pleased supporters who say it will ease the burden of dealing with conflicting state requirements.
Called the "National Uniformity for Food Act of 1998," the bill would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to set national standards, labeling and notification requirements -- all of which can be a concern to both food producers and retailers with business crossing state lines.
"In today's world of national manufacturing and distribution, it makes no sense to have different labels in different states on the same products," said Manly Molpus, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, an industry group based in Washington. "This is a common sense initiative."
Sponsored by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the bill has bipartisan support in both houses, as reported previously in SN. In the Senate, the bill is co-sponsored by Republicans Richard Lugar of Indiana, Mike Enzy of Wyoming and John Warner of Virgina and Democrats Robert Kerrey of Nebraska, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Timothy Johnson of South Dakota. In the House, the bill is supported by Republicans James Greenwood of Pennsylvania, Frederick Upton of Michigan and Greg Ganske of Iowa and Democrats Edolphus Towns of New York, Ralph Hall of Texas and Ted Strickland of Ohio.
Kelly Johnston, executive vice president of government affairs at the National Food Processors Association, said, "This legislation is a first step forward in eliminating potential food-label confusion for consumers," she said. "There is no valid reason why standards to ensure food safety and prevention of deception should be different for citizens in different states."
Despite such support, however, the bill isn't expected to go anywhere before Congress' current session ends in October. Most proponents hope, though, that the bill will be revisited in January with the new session, with hearings scheduled for the spring. That's because supporters already have grown concerned over a California law passed last year that included some labeling provisions as well as other labeling changes now being discussed in other states.
But while the federal bill would establish federal standards, individual states would still have full control over food sanitation, religious dietary labeling, all date labeling and shellfish warnings. States also could petition the federal government for label changes and would be permitted to notify citizens of any imminent food safety hazard, even if it wasn't included in the federal standards.
"Currently, each of the 50 states can implement its own warning requirements, adding unnecessary regulatory burdens that inhibit interstate commerce," Johnston said.