Consumer groups oppose new food labeling billby Lorna Benson, Minnesota Public Radio
A federal food labeling proposal in the U.S. Senate is drawing criticism from Minnesota consumer groups. Three food safety organizations voiced their opposition to the so-called "National Uniformity for Food Act" at the state Capitol Thursday. They also called on Sen. Mark Dayton and Sen. Norm Coleman to defeat the bill.
St. Paul, Minn. — Supporters argue that the bill is a way to simplify labeling rules for food companies that sell products in multiple states. Currently many companies must create numerous versions of their labels depending on where they sell their products due to varying food safety laws across the U.S.
But consumer groups say rather than simplifying the process, the legislation in effect lowers food safety standards to match much weaker federal guidelines.
Ronnie Cummins, the head of the Organic Consumers Association, says the proposal preempts at least five food safety regulations in Minnesota that give consumers more information about milk, honey, candy and wild rice.
"You want to be able to distinguish authentically harvested wild rice produced or harvested by Native Americans in Minnesota from products that call themselves wild rice, that are actually coming from a large agri-business farm on the west coast," he says. "This law would get rid of that."
Cummins says the bill would also limit Minnesota's inspection authority and it would require the state to seek permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to retain its existing labeling laws.
"What this special interest bill is all about is taking away the right of consumers to be able to decide what food and beverages they want to purchase. It means taking away the right of local and state government to police important matters like food safety."
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. hasn't stated how he will vote on the proposal yet. He plans to attend a hearing on the bill later this month to learn more about it. But Coleman he says as far as he knows, the legislation does not have a direct effect on Minnesota regulations.
"I think there are 11 state laws that would be, but I don't think that Minnesota laws would be impacted by this," he says.
Consumer groups cite significantly different numbers. They argue as many as 200 state laws around the country could be nullified if the Senate bill becomes law.
While Coleman hasn't said how he will vote on the measure, he does say that he thinks it would be beneficial to have uniform food safety standards in the U.S. as long as food safety isn't compromised.
"I think we need to decide what is safe for all Americans and develop food standards based on science-based safety standards. I don't want federal preemption that undermines safety."
Calls to Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn. and the Grocery Manufacturers of America were not returned.
In addition to consumer group complaints, two dozen state attorneys general, including Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch, also oppose the bill.
It's not clear if or when the Senate might vote on the measure. The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a similar measure.