National Environmental
Health Association Position Regarding


HR 4167:  National Uniformity for Food Act of 2005

Adopted February 3, 2006


HR 4167 is proposed legislation that, on its face, purports to mandate universal labeling in the food industry. The legislation contains vague, but nonetheless troublesome language that expands the focus of the bill far beyond this simple uniform labeling provision. After a comprehensive legal analysis of this language, done in cooperation with the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) and numerous state and local food protection programs, NEHA became actively involved in the response to this legislative proposal. Central to our concern is the threat that H.R. 4167 will impose a federal preemption of the statutory and regulatory authority of state/local food safety and protection programs.

In recognition of the fact that this bill could have a fundamental negative impact on the food protection programs in which thousands of environmental health professionals work, NEHA has been tracking this legislation over both this session and the past congressional session. Through the NEHA Government Affairs program, we have worked with congressional staff, and other associations to offer both comments and amendments to the legislation that would address many of these concerns. The passage of the bill out of its assigned committee in the US House of Representatives, in its current form, prompted action by the NEHA Board of Directors. Below is the text of a letter outlining NEHA’s position on this legislation. This position has been conveyed to the sponsor of the bill and to many other members of Congress. We encourage you to review the letter and to contact your congressional representatives.



Dear Representative _____________

I am writing to express the deep concerns that we have regarding H.R. 4167: "The National Uniformity for Foods Act of 2005". I present our concerns on behalf of the Board of Directors and the membership of The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).

For sixty-nine years, NEHA has been the lead organization to represent the tens of thousands of environmental health professionals who work in public health programs throughout our nation. NEHA is a not-for-profit professional society. We include within our membership public/environmental health professionals who work at the federal, state and local levels of government and in industry. A significant portion of our membership practices environmental health in the area of food safety and protection. These individuals staff and manage thousands of food safety/protection programs through out the United States that enforce and assure compliance with both local and state food safety codes and regulations. These professionals, more than any other group in our public health system, are responsible on a daily basis for protecting our citizens from the illness and even death that can occur from the consumption of unsafe and/or adulterated food.

For almost a century, our members have successfully managed local food protection programs. One of the major reasons for our success over the years owes to the meaningful and extensive collaboration we engage in with both federal agencies (primarily the FDA, USDA, and CDC) and the food service and manufacturing industries. These collaborations between federal, state, and local agencies together with the food industry have enabled us to develop these programs beyond the simple regulatory model that they used to be. For example, our members now proactively engage the food industry. This has led to more of an educational approach to improved food safety practices within the United States.

These programs have continually evolved and improved largely because they have had the autonomy to do so. The autonomy that these programs operate within has also enabled them to adapt to particular local circumstances that could otherwise impact their success. This autonomy also affords them the opportunity to balance nationally recognized standards with the flexibility required in their respective local jurisdictions. It is the preemption of this local authority, control and autonomy that is at the heart of our opposition to H.R.4167.

There is no question in our minds that the adoption of this legislation, in its current form, will destroy the ability of state and local food protection programs to identify and resolve situations involving adulterated food products. It will also destroy our ability to tailor these programs to the particular needs and circumstances of the communities we serve. We are also deeply concerned that the proposed legislation would remove the ability of local food safety programs to appropriately respond to a terrorism event involving food. In fact, we are concerned that local food safety programs would or could be decimated by the federal program envisioned in this proposed legislation.

The bill purports to establish uniform national food labeling standards. Were that the only aim or effect of the legislation we would not be taking this position. H.R. 4167 in our view, and in the view of the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO) as well as numerous other public health and consumer protection organizations, goes far beyond this uniform labeling standard. It will impose a federal preemptive standard that will strip local and state food protection programs of their statutory authority to remove contaminated foods from the market place and to regulate food service operations consistent with the circumstances of particular local communities.

We respectfully suggest that this is bad public health policy. It also represents an unwarranted, though perhaps unintentional, intrusion into our local and state food protection programs – which are today responsible for effectively conducting 80% of the current food safety work being done nationally. Moreover, these programs are being implemented successfully! Why would we want to compromise them?

We urge caution before undertaking a congressionally mandated change in a food safety system that works effectively, is responsive to the nation’s needs and is in tune with local circumstances and opportunities.

NEHA would be pleased to work with you and your colleagues in addressing and correcting the deficiencies in this legislation. We look forward to hearing from you and we appreciate your consideration of our concerns.

Sincerely,



Ron Grimes, RS, MPH, DAAS
President, National Environmental Health Association

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