A uniform disaster: National Uniformity of Food Act

by Caroline Brown

Today I want to write about a bill that has gotten very little press coverage except in a few farm-heavy states: the National Uniformity of Food Act, which was passed in the House last week and will be taken up by the Senate in the near future.

The National Uniformity of Food Act will eliminate all state food laws regulating food safety and consumer warnings. (Re-read what I just wrote. I can hardly believe it.) It will nullify nearly 200 state laws designed to protect our food. From a Washington Post op-ed by Harold Meyerson, here are some examples of laws that states will no longer be allowed to enforce:

In Utah, lawmakers enacted a law that sets standards for what can go into food additives — standards that are stricter than the feds’. In California last year Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that banned lead from imported Mexican candy, after medical research showed that even minute quantities were dangerous to small children. And 16 states have passed laws establishing safety standards for shellfish, in the absence of any federal regulations.

All 50 states have safety and warning laws that are affected by this.

The bill is sponsored by multinational food corporations and organizations such as Cargill, the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, the American Meat Institute, ConAgra, Dean Foods, Hormel, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Pork Producers Council–the usual suspects. They say they sponsored the bill because American consumers are confused by all the different state regulations. So they want a consistent national food safety and labeling system, managed by the Food & Drug Administration (I won’t get started on the FDA, I promise.) That way, us dumb food buyers won’t get confused when we go to the market.

The problem is, the National Uniformity of Food Act doesn’t propose any national food safety or warning laws! And it doesn’t require the FDA to actually develop any national food safety or warning laws! All it does is eliminate what the states have already implemented. That’s right, they want to eliminate the state laws because they confuse us, but they don’t replace them with anything at the federal level!

You can see that what’s really going on is that BigAg & BigFood, which coincidentally donate BigMo to our politicians, have united to pass a law that, under the guise of not confusing consumers, basically strips away all restrictions for food safety and warning.

This seems so unbelievable that it seems like I must be making it up or that I’m being hysterical–I’m not. Please read & decide for yourself and contact your senators.

  • Text of the law as it was passed by the House taken from Thomas, the Library of Congress’ tool for tracking legislative information
  • Union of Concerned Scientists–I love these guys. Their campaign Tell the Senate to Protect Food Safety Laws has a form you can fill out and send your senators. Most useful is the downloadable list of 200 state laws that will likely be eliminated.
  • Consumers Union Myths. vs. Truths about the National Uniformity of Food Act. Consumers Union is the publisher of Consumers Reports.
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4 Comments to “A uniform disaster: National Uniformity of Food Act”

  1. Thanks for this important post Caroline. There are too many horror stories like this happening, re: our food supplies, we really need to practise, ‘buyer beware’ and demand better from government officials everywhere. There are some strange laws in Canada too. A few years ago, the fed. govt. were (essentially) trying to put the squeeze on health food stores and the food supplements sold at these stores. Fortunately, there was enough consumer backlash to get the govt. to back off and let people decide for themselves, in this case, what they wanted to buy and to ingest.

    I just posted a new Food Pyramid link on my site, in keeping with choosing foods that will benefit consumers and not big business. Hope you will check it out.

    Have a great weekend, Geraldine

  2. Just found your site today and it’s great! I’m very interested in farming in relation to the food source. I have an internship for this season before I go to culinary school. I will certainly be reading your website.

  3. Matt, thanks for visiting the site. I hope to hear more of your feedback about sustainable farming & gardening and the relationship of people to food.

  4. You’re right…. this bill has gotten so little press that I’m saddened to say I wasn’t aware of it at all. This is very disturbing, particularly in light of the fact the federal government isn’t proposing to replace any of the state laws with an over-arching list of safety or warning laws.
    Don’t even get me started on the FDA…

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