Thursday, December 29, 2005

Charlie the Tuna and states rights

Congress has come up with a fix for a daunting problem: the worry that comes from consumers, especially pregnant women, about whether the food they eat will harm their unborn babies. It turns out the solution is incredibly easy: eliminate the warnings. Brilliant, as usual.

Here's how it's supposed to work, according to legislation approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee shortly before Congress adjourned for the Christmas recess. All 50 states have laws that require point of purchase food safety notices of one kind or another. Under the bill introduced by Republican Mike Rogers of Michigan and co-sponsored by 200 of his closest friends and accomplices (with the encouragement of numerous lobbyists), some 80 laws in 37 states would be eliminated, pre-empted by Federal authority. That will improve interstate commerce by eliminating the confusion of separate food safety warnings in the different states. You have to admire the flexibility and pragmatic attitude of "states rights" Republicans. They aren't bound by principle.

Of course there is a little more to it. Like tuna. Because in fact the main target is California's attempt to put strong warnings on tuna because of mercury contamination. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, and a series of landmark studies conducted in the Faroe Islands by Philippe Grandjean and his colleagues has shown that levels of mercury commonly encountered by consumers may have effects on fetal development.

California is being sued by the Tuna Foundation and their suit was joined by the FDA. And you thought the FDA was on the side of consumers? Silly you. Did you forget about Vioxx? At issue is the belief by independent scientists, the American Public Health Association and the American Medical Association that the current FDA mercury advisory is not protective and would allow exposures of an estimated 600,000 fetuses above current EPA reference levels.

Attempts by Democrats to postpone or modify the gutting of state control over food warnings were to no avail. Representative Lois Capps, a Democrat representing Santa Barbara in southern California tried to exempt state laws dealing with birth defect warnings but was defeated 32 - 31. California Democrat Henry Waxman's amendment to permit states to help parents limit their children's exposure to cancer-causing agents or developmental toxins was also defeated, 26 - 19.

But did you expect anything else from the Republican controlled congress? Sorry, Charlie.