Grower and retailer lobby groups fight new food warnings
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Lobbyist for farmers and grocers are objecting to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment‘s plan to toughen consumer warnings about carcinogenic chemicals in foods.
Businesses must provide “clear and reasonable” warnings about exposure to certain chemicals under Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. That voter-approved initiative requires that consumers be warned about exposure to chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
OEHHA is reconsidering its guidelines for providing warnings for exposure to chemicals in food purchased at retail stores, “including the relative responsibilities of product manufacturers versus food retailers,” according to the agency. After a public workshop held Sept.25, the agency received responses from industry groups.
- The Agricultural Council of California, a lobby group that represents farmer cooperatives, said it found “many fundamental flaws” in the proposal. In particular, it objected to a proposed requirement to list every naturally-occurring Prop 65-listed chemical in food. It also claims the proposal open a food processor to be sued “if a single retailer does not adopt the new system,” even if the processor provided the required information to retailers and distributors.
- The California Retailers Association and California Grocers Association submitted a joint comment on behalf of more than 6,000 member retailers. The lobby groups contend that the proposal omits “the only viable option” for most food retailers to transmit warnings to consumers: “a written compendium as a vehicle for making the warnings available to consumers in hard copy in the store.” The groups also object to a proposed change from requiring warnings be made available to consumers to providing warnings “without requiring the consumer to seek out the warning,” a proposal they call “wholly unworkable.” And the groups recommend small-to-midsize retailers be “required to post only one general sign, directing consumers to the OEHHA food warning website.”
- Two national groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Beverage Association, said in their joint comment the proposal would create a system that “cannot work and, therefore, will not be used.” The manufacturers characterized the proposal that each listed chemical be identified as “unworkable, unnecessary and infeasible,” saying it would require a “prohibitively expensive testing regime.” The comment also makes reference to what it calls an “escalating” number of “lawsuits and threatened lawsuits against food companies–including retailers” stemming from Prop 65.
The agency also received a joint comment from The Center for Environmental Health and the Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation, which worry that the changes weaken consumer information. They object to the proposal that consumers could be told about hazardous chemicals either through a warning with or on the register receipt or from a brochure offered at the checkout counter. The consumer-oriented groups say such warnings would come too late in the shopping process.
Changes in the warning requirements are not likely to occur until early next year.