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Bipartisan bill sets science-based food labeling standards

Bipartisan bill sets science-based food labeling standards
Accurate Labels Act establishes science-based criteria for all additional state labeling requirements.

Research shows that 62% of Americans believe the federal government should set the standard for what labels must be included on products consumers buy. Legislation introduced by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) and Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.), the Accurate Labels Act, would provide clear, accurate and meaningful nutrition information to consumers by preventing companies from issuing inaccurate labels that mislead consumers.

The Accurate Labels Act would amend the Fair Packaging & Labeling Act to ensure that consumers continue to benefit from the nutritional and allergy information on packaging today. Kinzinger and Schrader introduced this legislation in June 2018, along with a Senate companion bill, and have introduced the bill again because confusion has increased.

“Oftentimes, due to various state laws, items are incorrectly labeled with warnings about harms that do not exist. This inaccuracy creates confusion and fear for the consumers, desensitizes the public from heeding serious warnings on health risks and imposes unnecessary and costly regulatory burdens for producers,” Kinzinger said. “The Accurate Labels Act is a commonsense measure to guarantee clear and accurate product labels for consumers.”

The Coalition for Accurate Product Labels (CAPL) noted that, since 2017, there have been 62 proposals in 17 states that would require warning labels or ingredient listings that are based on questionable science and may cause unnecessary confusion and concern for consumers.

For example, New York City; San Francisco, Cal., and Baltimore, Md., proposed warning labels on all sweetened beverages, even though the Food & Drug Administration says sugar “can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern.” Also, several cities and states, such as Hawaii, have required or proposed warning labels on cell phones despite the weight of scientific evidence that cell phone use is safe. California requires warning labels on a variety of everyday products — even coffee was subjected to a warning label — often without regard to the best science or real-world exposure rates.

The Accurate Labels Act ensures that consumers have access to accurate and easy-to-understand product information by: establishing science-based criteria for all additional state and local labeling requirements; allowing state-mandated product information to be provided through smartphone-enabled “smart labels” and on websites where consumers can find up-to-date, relevant ingredients and warnings, and ensuring that covered product information is risk based.

CAPL reported that more than four in five (83%) Americans support using digital disclosure through smartphones or websites as a transparent way to access accurate, detailed information on the products they use.

“American consumers are demanding more information about the safety of the products that they purchase for their families,” Schrader said. “That’s why I’m proud to join my colleague, Rep. Kinzinger, in introducing bipartisan legislation to establish science-based criteria for labeling requirements to ensure that consumers are given accurate information about the products that they use every day. We want to make sure our constituents have confidence in the information they are receiving so they are able to make informed decisions about the products that they use.”

This legislation is supported by CAPL, which includes the American Chemistry Council, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the National Products Assn., among many other trade organizations.

“Fewer than 18% of Americans believe states and cities should be able to impose whatever labeling regulations they want,” National Council of Farmer Cooperatives president Chuck Conner said, adding that the Accurate Labels Act "will help ensure that consumers are able to rely on labeling information, and it will put a stop to the labeling chaos and misinformation that creates confusion, drives up costs and creates unreasonable regulatory burdens for farmers, manufacturers and small businesses.”

More than half of Americans (56%) believe that if states or cities want to impose their own requirements on product labels, additional labeling mandates must be based on sound science and legitimate risk to people using the product. Meanwhile, 18% believe that states or cities should be able to impose whatever requirements they want, and 15% do not think states or localities should be able to impose new requirements at all.

Congress passed the Fair Packaging & Labeling Act in 1966 to help ensure that packages and their labels provide consumers with accurate information about the products they buy. The law requires labels on consumer products to include the name and place of the manufacturer, packer or distributor, the quantity of contents in weight, measure or numerical count and a statement that identifies the commodity (e.g., detergent, sponges). FDA and the Federal Trade Commission enforce the law.

“Americans deserve access to accurate information about the products they buy and use,” American Chemistry Council president and chief executive officer Chris Jahn said. “Unfortunately, an increasing number of states and localities are requiring misleading labels that imply risks where none exist. The [Accurate Labels Act] will provide consumers with transparent and science-based information about products by requiring states and localities to ‘show their work’ when it comes to the science behind their labeling mandates.”

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