In the next few weeks, Congress will consider legislation drastically altering food safety rules.
The changes, which have been called “an assault on 40 years of consumer protection,” have been proposed by Republicans to limit the federal government’s authority over food safety, health and the environment.
The changes, scattered throughout several bills, would make it easier for businesses to prove that food is safe, and make it harder for the government to prove that regulations are worthwhile and cost-effective.
The centerpiece of the effort is a bill on regulatory reform sponsored by Sen. Bob Dole. R-Kansas, which would affect many food rules.
“It is clear that the American people are fed up with a regulatory state that is out of control,” Dole said. “The bill simply asks that agencies use common sense to avoid unnecessary costs when pursuing important goals such as health and safety.” The changes, he said, would not foreclose tougher safety standards or override existing mandates.
But critics contend the result would be a food supply that is much less safe.
“These proposals are an assault on 40 years of consumer protection,” said Dr. David Kessler, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. In a recent interview, he spoke out against the proposals for the first time, saying he had decided to do so because “there is an enormous amount at stake.”
“It’s one thing to eliminate unnecessary burdens on business,” Kessler said. “It’s another thing to compromise longstanding health and safety standards.”
Currently, most decisions on food regulations are based on their effect on health. But under the proposed legisla tion, benefits to farmers and food processors would play a greater role in determining whether the Food and Drug Administration could issue new safety requirements for food companies or whether the Environmental Protection Agency would permit the use of a pesticide.
The Republican majorities in both the House and Senate strongly support changes along these lines, and some Democrats are prepared to vote for them as well.
Some form of legislation reducing regulations is likely to pass, and the Delaney Clause, which bans the addition of any known carcinogens to foods, will be weakened, at the very least.
On the other hand, President Clinton has said he will veto some more sweeping measures, including the Dole bill, unless they are substantially changed.
Some members of Congress said they were alarmed by what they saw as too much deregulation.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said: “The Republicans cloak their actions in terms of anti-government regulation, but it’s more than that. They are siding with and helping special interests at the expense of public health when they attack food safety.”
xxxx Bills halt upgrades, allow carcinogens The various bills, if approved, would have the following consequences: Rules to modernize the meat inspection system, including E. coli testing, scheduled to go into effect next year, would either be dropped or postponed. The rules were proposed by the Agriculture Department in an effort to prevent an estimated 5 million illnesses and 4,000 deaths each year from meat and poultry tainted with harmful bacteria. A major regulation intended to improve the testing of seafood by the end of year, would either be stopped or postponed several years. The Delaney Clause, which forbids adding even the slightest trace of any known carcinogen to food, would be repealed. The Clinton administration opposes the move. Pesticides that are considered probable human carcinogens could continue to be used. The Environmental Protection Agency had been in the process of removing them from the market. The Food and Drug Administration’s plan to regulate the packaging of iron supplements - the leading cause of poisoning of children - would be dropped or delayed several years. The rule was scheduled to go into effect later this year. New York Times