Food bill debated

WASHINGTON: As Congress begins to debate a national food safety standard that could potentially overrule more stringent state laws, hundreds of groups on both sides are staking their position through the media.

WASHINGTON: As Congress begins to debate a national food safety standard that could potentially overrule more stringent state laws, hundreds of groups on both sides are staking their position through the media.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is leading an outreach effort to support the bill for the National Uniformity for Food Coalition, which comprises about 150 groups. GMA's partners include trade organizations, such as the American Beverage Association and the International Dairy Foods Association, as well as food companies, such as General Mills and Godiva.

The National Uniformity for Food Act would create uniform safety standards for food products that would apply across all states.

Supporters of the bill have argued that a national standard would reduce costs for companies and provide savings to customers. They've also emphasized that the bill would reduce confusion because what is deemed safe in one state would be safe nationwide.

But editorial boards at major newspapers - and groups like the National Resources Defense Council - have urged Congress to leave food safety to the states. California is held up as an example of a state that has imposed strict limits on arsenic in bottled water and mercury in fish.

Opponents believe a national standard would undermine the safety of the food supply by overriding such statutes as California's.

Stephanie Childs, GMA's director of communications, noted that the coalition has been reaching out to reporters to address its position.

She emphasized that if the bill is passed, states could petition the government to use their guidelines as the national standard. "If a state has a stricter standard, they must have the science to support it," Childs said. "This is legislation that benefits consumers."

The coalition also has urged supporters to write to policymakers. Letter templates are posted on its Web site, uniformityforfood.org.

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