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Food safety insecurity used as a hook against regulatory reform

Each side has just the congressional recess left to practice its hyperbole for the coming Senate fight over how regulations will be used across government. It’s going to get nasty. And confusing. The practice of giving the other side’s bill a dirty name is now a common tactic.

Since the Regulatory Accountability Act passed the House by a vote of 238-to-183 in January, the collection of consumer and environmental groups opposing the bill have taken to calling it the “Filthy Food Act.”

regreform_406x250It’s far from certain, however, that the new Regulatory Accountability Act would translate  into  weakened federal food safety standards.  It is, after all, about how new regulations might be imposed, not about changes to any of the 47,661 rules put in place since 2001, including 1,062 “major new rules” that each cost the economy $100 million or more each year.

Since the 1970s, agencies have had to keep track of the costs and benefits of regulations and Government Accountability Office dutifully keeps track of all the data, which is a said to impose $2 trillion a year on the economy.

The new Regulatory Accounting Act would  put agencies through more hoops in the regulatory process.  More were added the 1980s, but it’s hard to say that slowed the process.   Congress likes leaving the details to the agencies.

The new Regulatory Accounting Act calls for more attention to the economic impact on small business, and calls for indirect and cumulative impacts of new regulation to be taken into account when new regulations are being proposed.

Agencies promulgating rules would be required to come up with alternatives to proposed rules to minimize any adverse economic impact or maximize any beneficially significant economic impact on small entities. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service, the agency landlords for most of the 640 million acres owned by the U.S. government,  are required to generate business –friendly alternatives in their own planning.

Current food safety rules were adopted after bipartisan approval of the Food Safety Modernization Act and a 5-year rule making process that FDA conducted with stakeholders, sometimes reversing directions to maintain consensus. Opponents of the Regulatory Accountability Act says the current food safety rules would not have survived “never-ending reviews and layers upon layers of wasteful Congressional and judicial red tape.”

However, there was Congressional involvement and judicial review, especially over deadline dates for the various rules.

Several consumer/environmental groups that are often involved in food safety issues have written several companies also often involved in food safety to persuade them to oppose the Regulatory Accountability Act when it comes to the Senate in May.

The “open letter” went out to Campbell Soup Company, Cargill, Coca-Cola, CVS Health, Domino’s Pizza, General Mills, PepsiCo, Target, Walmart, and Yum! Bands. “Food safety rules help reduce the risks posed by pathogens, additives, and pesticides,” says the letter. “But the “Filthy Food Act” passed by the House would create an unprecedented regulatory gauntlet through which no food safety rule or guidance could pass.”

Signing the letter were representatives of Food Policy Action, Food & Water Watch, Environmental Working Group, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Putting aside whether the new law would truly be a “regulatory gauntlet” for regulations, some significant elements are included.  One would repeal the so-called “Chevron” doctrine, so named for a 1984 Supreme Court case of Chevron USA v. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. that gave deference to agency legal interpretations when their decisions are challenged.

Also billion dollar rules would not take effect until timely filed litigation challenging their promulgation is resolved.  It also beefs up the existing prohibition on federal agency lobbying for their own rules.

The consumer/environmental groups claim the new Regulatory Accountability Act “would require officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and other agencies to seek out the least costly, and not the most beneficial, regulatory approach to food safety problems…”

“Manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants generally take food safety serious, which is why they should not stand by while their trade associations dismantle the food safety system,” said CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson. “Extremists like (White House chief strategist) Steve Bannon may sneer at what he calls the ‘administrative state,” but that’s generally what’s keeping E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria out of our food supply.”

Jacobson is inviting the food companies “to work cooperatively with us to defeat this reckless and irresponsible piece of legislation.”

 

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