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CSPI Criticizes Senate's Sneak Attack on Food Labeling

Bill Limits FDA Authority to Prohibit Misleading Claims; Permits Manufacturers to Hide Irradiated Food Labels

An industry-supported bill that weakens food labeling laws passed the U.S. Senate today, drawing sharp criticism from a non-profit consumer group. The bill eliminates clear labeling of irradiated foods and allows potentially misleading health claims on food packages. The food labeling provisions were attached to the unrelated Prescription Drug User Fee Act reauthorization with little debate at the urging of food industry trade groups.

"Congress should stop this sneak attack on the American public," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). "The food industry is hiding in the shadow of unrelated legislation so it can slip anti-consumer provisions into law at the last minute. The Senate let them get away with it but the House should not." A House of Representatives committee is scheduled to vote on the bill this week.

The bill removes the requirement that irradiated food be prominently marked with a symbol and words. Instead, manufacturers can hide the fact that food has been irradiated in tiny print on the back of the package. Over 92 percent of American consumers want irradiated food to be clearly labeled, according to a 1996 poll conducted by Bruskin/Goldring Research.

"Congress should realize that hiding the fact that foods have been irradiated will only fuel consumer skepticism about irradiation," said Carol Tucker Foreman, former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture. "Passage of this legislation will garner for Congress the same level of disrespect that came from hiding the $50 billion tobacco tax credit."

The bill also could open the door to a flood of misleading new health claims on food labels by eliminating a requirement that such claims be pre-approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This measure, which has been opposed by a broad coalition of health groups, is an attempt to weaken the landmark Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA).

"This provision is a serious disservice to the health of the American people," said Bruce Silverglade. "It will turn back the clock to the days before passage of the NLEA, when food labels made confusing and deceptive claims about health benefits."

CSPI is a nonprofit, consumer organization, based in Washington, DC. It is supported largely by more than 900,000 subscribers to Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI led the drive for the current law that requires nutrition information on almost all food labels in the U.S. and set standards for health and nutrition claims on labels.