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House Set To Nullify State Consumer Safety Programs Under Pressure From Corporate Food Lobby

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

(WASHINGTON, Mar 8) - The House votes today on a bill pitting giant food companies against the health and safety of American families—a measure that could nullify state laws warning consumers about mercury in fish, lead in candy, arsenic in bottled water, benzene in soft drinks and dozens of other dangers.

At least 227 members of the House are co-sponsors of the legislation, which would force states to get the federal government's permission before issuing food advisories or strengthening federal food protections. But the EWG Action Fund warned supporters of the bill that they could face voters' wrath in November's midterm congressional elections.

"This bill is a brazen attack on Americans' right to know what's in their food, and on the states' right to protect their citizens when the Food and Drug Administration doesn't do its job—which is daily," said Richard Wiles, Senior Vice President of EWG.

"Time after time, state consumer protection programs fill the void after big companies like Sunny Delight, Bumble Bee Seafoods and other companies with food safety problems have used the FDA like a doormat. Any member of Congress who votes with big food companies on this issue is saying they really don't care about whether their own constituents' food is safe. This is the most important vote on food safety in a decade, and the public will be watching."

The House bill is a direct assault on California's Proposition 65, a unique law that says any products containing ingredients that could cause cancer or reproductive harm must be labeled with a consumer warning. Companies often choose to remove the toxic ingredient rather than add a warning label. But according to California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, more than 150 laws in all 50 states would be struck down if the bill becomes law.

Over 40 states have advisories about mercury levels in fish so that families can protect their children. Others issue warnings on shellfish, milk, bottled water, candy and many other products. Many state laws are more stringent than federal regulations because health officials are concerned that federal laws are too lax.

Just last week, EWG Action Fund researchers posted a list of over 20 soft drinks marketed to children that contain two ingredients that, when mixed together, can form the cancer-causing chemical benzene. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knew about this problem in 1990, but trusted the beverage industry to fix it.

"For 16 years, the federal government failed to warned the public that popular soft drinks may pose a risk to their children's health," said Wiles. "If beverages with cancer-causing benzene are sold in California, they should either carry a warning label, or the dangerous chemicals must be removed. This bill would take away the state's power to protect its citizens, and make certain that this vital consumer protection doesn't spread to other states. But when the FDA is asleep at the switch, state laws are our last line of defense against the irresponsible practices of the food industry."

Additional Resources

  • A list of drinks containing ascorbic acid and either sodium
  • benzoate or potassium benzoate
  • CBS 3 Philadelphia news report (video)
  • WJLA-TV DC news report (video)
  • UK, Germany testing sodas, too
  • FDA quietly investigating?
  • Soft drink industry pledges to follow through

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EWG Action Fund is a legislative advocacy organization that is related to EWG. EWG and EWG Action Fund use the power of information to protect human health and the environment. Their letter to the FDA and additional information on benzene in soft drinks is available online at http://www.ewg.org/node/18585. EWG's research on toxics and children's health is available at http://www.ewg.org/featured/14.