Contact: Joe Mendelson, Center for Food Safety, 703-244-1724; John Bianchi, Goodman Media, 212-576-2700
House Subcommittee Today Approves Language Slipped into Farm Bill that Prevents States from Protecting their Citizens
Center for Food Safety Recognizes that Proposal Ties States' Hands, Weakening Food Safety Protections at a Time When they Need to be Strengthened
Washington May 24, 2007 - Earlier today, the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry approved new language slipped into the 2007 Farm Bill that pre-empts any state prohibitions against any foods or agricultural goods that have been deregulated by the USDA. The passage appears to be aimed at several recently enacted state laws that restrict the planting of genetically engineered (GE) crops, but could also prohibit states from taking action when food contamination cases occur.
"Given the recent spate of food scares, it's shocking to see this attempt to derail safeguards for our food and farms," said Joseph Mendelson, Legal Director of the Center for Food Safety. "We need a Farm Bill that will promote stronger food safety standards, not one that attacks these vital state-level protections."
The passage approved by the House Subcommittee today states that "no State or locality shall make any law prohibiting the use in commerce of an article that the Secretary of Agriculture has inspected and passed; or determined to be of non-regulated status."
State legislatures, local governments, and citizens of many states and localities have adopted prohibitions on the planting of certain genetically altered products. Some of the state-level laws that may be pre-empted or compromised if the proposed Farm Bill language were adopted include:
* Legislation in California and Arkansas that gives these states the power to prohibit the introduction of GE rice. The major rice growing states are particularly concerned after last falls revelations that several unapproved varieties of GE rice had contaminated natural rice, resulting in massive losses for US farmers when export customers in Asian and Europe closed their markets to US rice.
* Legislation adopted this year in the state of Washington, which prohibits planting of GE canola in areas near the State's large non-GE seed production. Brassica (cabbage, broccoli, and other such crops) seed producers pushed for this legislation, since GE canola can cross-pollinate with and contaminate natural cabbage seed. The Skagit Valley area in Washington produces $20 million in vegetable seed annually and is home to half of the world's cabbage seed production;
* County bans on planting of GE crops in four California counties. To protect their organic and natural food producers, four California counties have adopted bans or moratoriums on planting of GE crops;
An overview of these and other state- level regulations of GE crops and foods is available at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/US_Ag_Report.pdf.
In addition, the vague language of the proposal raises concerns that states would be barred from taking action when food safety threats arise. For example, states could be barred from prohibiting the sale of e. coli-tainted ground beef if the meat has passed USDA inspection, as was the case in last week's massive 15-state beef recall.
The biotechnology industry has sponsored language akin to the text approved this morning in the House subcommittee in dozens of state-level attempts to pre-empt state regulations on GE crops. They also joined the food and agribusiness industries last year in pushing for a federal "Food Uniformity" law, which would have gutted numerous state-level food safety laws.
The Center for Food Safety is national, non-profit, membership organization founded in 1997 that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. On the web at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org