July 18, 2000
Sweeping Special Interest Rider Would Invalidate Dozens of State and Local Food and Dietary Supplement Safeguards and Labeling Requirements
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Grocery Manufacturers of America, the dietary supplement lobby and other industry forces have been pressing Congress to enact a bill that would nullify dozens of state and local safety and labeling requirements relating to the regulation of food and dietary supplements nationwide. The legislation — the “National Food Uniformity Act of 2000” (S. 1155) — was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee on June 29. Key Senate staff have said that a version of this bill may be attached as a rider to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill, which will likely be taken up by the Senate today or tomorrow.
If enacted, S. 1155 would threaten any state and municipal protections that are more stringent than federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, such as requirements related to dietary supplements, warning labels, irradiation, adulteration of food and food additives. The only way for a state to avoid automatic nullification of these protections would be to petition the FDA for a waiver, which would be granted only if the state proved to the FDA that the provision both protected an important public interest and did not “unduly burden” interstate commerce.
Under S. 1155, a Louisiana regulation requiring warning labels on shellfish, which frequently contain pathogens that can cause illness and even death, would be invalidated unless the state were able to elicit special permission for the rule from the FDA. California s popular Proposition 65, a voter initiative that requires carcinogens and agents that may cause birth defects to be disclosed on product labels, could also be nullified.
“For years, consumers have relied on state and local labeling requirements and safety standards to fill regulatory gaps left by the FDA,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Now, the special interests are pressuring Congress to exempt them from these important consumer safeguards. Their goal is to avoid any state and local consumer protections that are stronger or more protective of consumers than what the FDA requires — even in areas, such as dietary supplements, where the FDA has very limited authority to regulate and very few resources to enforce existing protections.”
Indeed, as a July 11, 2000, General Accounting Office (GAO) report recently found, the FDA has neither the resources nor the authority to ensure the safety of dietary supplements. For example, even though the National Institutes of Health has concluded that St. John s Wort may decrease the efficacy of a drug used to treat HIV infection, this important information is still missing from the labels of some supplements containing the substance.
Some states, such as Texas, have attempted to fill the gap, requiring warning labels on supplements such as ephedrine, a substance that has been associated with hundreds of illnesses and several deaths. S. 1155 would invalidate this Texas provision unless the state was able to elicit a special waiver from the FDA.
This bill also would have grave consequences for growing consumer opposition to irradiated and genetically engineered foods. If S. 1155 were law, states could no longer prohibit the sale of irradiated fruits and vegetables within their borders. States could not even require that irradiated ingredients in foods be disclosed on product labels, because the federal standard is that irradiation need only be disclosed when the entire product has been irradiated. Similarly, states could not require that genetically engineered food be labeled, as there is currently no relevant labeling requirement for genetically engineered food at the FDA.