Tuesday, March 19, 1996

CONTACT: Caroline Smith-DeWaal, (202) 332-9110 x366

National Health and Consumer Groups Express Alarm Over Senate Amendments to Food Laws

"This is Legislation Only a Chemical Company Could Love,"

Charges Prominent Consumer Activist

A series of amendments to the Senate's proposed "reform" of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would reverse nearly 50 years of established law governing the approval of chemical additives to food.

The proposed amendments would also repeal key portions of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), the law that mandates nutrition labels on most packaged foods and prohibits misleading health claims on food products, according to national health and consumer organizations.

Proposed by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), the amendments will be offered on Wednesday, March 27 during mark-up of S. 1477 by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. If enacted into law, the Gregg amendments would:

"Privatize" the approval of new food additives by allowing manufacturers to select from an approved list an outside review panel -- which could include scientists who are paid consultants for industry -- to judge a proposed additive's safety. Presently that job is done only by impartial FDA staff experts.

Permit food companies to choose their own "expert panels" to vouch for the accuracy of health claims they want to place on food labels. Another change would allow health claims for high-fat foods such as ice cream and donuts.

Repeal the Delaney Clause, a change that would permit cancer-causing chemicals to be used as food additives and colorings.

Reverse the burden of proof for ascertaining the safety of certain proposed additives. Currently, a company must demonstrate that an additive is safe. Under the Gregg amendments, if an outside review panel endorsed the additive, the product would then be presumed safe unless FDA could prove it was dangerous.

Prohibit states from issuing their own food-labeling regulations. For example, Gregg's amendments would void both Vermont's BST milk-disclosure rule and California's requirement for label warnings on dangerous contaminants, even though both laws have been upheld in federal court.

"This is legislation that only a chemical company could love," charged CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. "The Gregg amendments aren't just a step backwards. This is a wholesale retreat from the very notion that the federal government has the basic responsibility to assure the safety and honest labeling of our food supply. Senator Gregg is making the Republicans look like the pro-disease party.

"If we're going to let food and chemical companies choose their own regulators, we might as well let defendants select their own juries and taxpayers pick their own auditors."

The Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, and other prominent consumer and health organizations have joined CSPI in opposing the food-safety provisions of the Gregg Amendments. Nearly a dozen other organizations joined CSPI last week in expressing opposition to the amendment's proposed changes in food labeling, including the American Cancer Society, American College of Preventative Medicine, and American Public Health Association.