May 18, 2006
In March 2006, after nearly 20 years, the House of Representative passed the National Uniformity in Food Act, or Proposition 65 (Prop 65); but according to some activists and politicians, this is just a way for Congress to belatedly attempt to rescue consumers from a California law that has been raising food prices across the country, says the Wall Street Journal.
Prop 65 -- originally passed by California in 1986 -- was supposed to improve the health of Californians by regulating exposure to hazardous chemicals by requiring the state to compile a list of substances that "cause cancer and reproductive toxicity." Companies had to either remove these substances or warn consumers that they were present, explains the Journal.
However, the law has been a nightmare for businesses while doing little for public health, says the Journal:
- Firms with products containing even traces of these elements are slammed with lawsuits, and then forced to either reformulate their goods or post a general warning that their product may "cause cancer."
- Consider acrylamide, which develops naturally in the process of cooking foods, including French fries and potato chips. Last year, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued companies for not warning consumers about this "toxic" chemical, even though reputable health organizations agree that acrylamide in food isn't harmful.
- Businesses, including the food industry, have spent more than $1 billion to fight lawsuits and reformulate products to make them acceptable in California, but because many food makers distribute nationally, their compliance costs are paid by Americans everywhere through higher-priced food.
Fortunately, federal legislation has put food safety standards back in the hands of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and this cooperative role should more than satisfy those Senators who originally supported the House uniformity legislation but have been spooked by the recent media uproar, says the Journal.
Source: Editorial, "Food Fight," Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2006.
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