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S. 981 Puts Squeeze on Food Safety

June 3, 1998

S. 981 Puts Squeeze on Food Safety

Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook
Capitol Press Conference

Today we have heard how Senate Bill 981 would delay, weaken, block or allow the repeal of critical safeguards for our nation?s food supply. Our hearts go out to the Dimocks, the Donleys, the McGregors, Cheryl Gombard and all others who have suffered so much because they or a loved one were injured by preventable food-borne illness. We salute your personal heroism in leading the fight for tough food safety rules that will protect other children and families.

We are proud to join S.T.O.P. and all safe food advocates in the campaign to ensure that the Food and Drug Administration requires warning labels in time to protect consumers before this fall?s juice season begins. Parents of young children, pregnant women, seniors and individuals with weakened immune systems have the right to know that unpasteurized juice may contain E.coli or other bacteria, and that they are at risk if they consume it. We also support a hazard control program for juice, parallel to the strong protections USDA established for meat and poultry in 1996.

Who opposes juice warning labels and hazard control programs to protect children? Some representatives of the juice industry — that?s who. Just as the meat industry vigorously opposed strong meat safety standards three years ago. And when the FDA and USDA move to establish future food safety protections — such as a modern hazard control system for fresh produce or measures to rein in the massive overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness — you can be sure industry opponents will be there too.

That?s why we can?t afford the red tape that S. 981 will add to the process. The FDA and USDA should not have one hand tied behind their backs when it comes to food safety.

The damage this bill would do doesn?t stop with food safety. S. 981’s one-size-fits-all Regulatory Obstacle Course could be used to delay or block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting standards to protect the purity of our drinking water. And it would undercut the Occupational Health and Safety Administration?s ability to control tuberculosis in the workplace, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission?s authority to set standards for safe toys or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration?s side-impact air bag standard.

S. 981 would also give the tobacco industry tools to delay, weaken or block tough FDA standards to prevent youth smoking. Want to see arrogant HMOs prevented from denying or delaying vital health care? Strong legislation is pending in the Senate and the House. But even if — when — it is passed, the Patients Bill of Rights will have to be implemented by regulation. Once again, S. 981 would give big businesses who say that patients? rights cost too much a second chance to block such critical protections.

In the time remaining in this session, Congress should act on the issues of major importance to the well-being of all Americans: passing tough tobacco legislation, protecting HMO patients? rights and reauthorizing the Superfund program. Majority Leader Lott should not try to pass a bill, S. 981, that could be used as a tool of industry to gut such lofty achievements.

The stories told here today put a human face on the damage S. 981 would do to food safety protections. When we leave here, we?re going to take that message to every Senate office by delivering to each a carton of properly labeled juice, with one request: Don?t let S. 981 put the Squeeze on Food Safety, Environmental Protections, Workplace Safety or Health Care Patients? Rights.