- U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. introduced the Accurate Labels Act on Thursday, which proposes to give consumers clear, accurate and meaningful nutrition information and prevent inaccurate labeling from misleading shoppers and driving up prices.
- The proposed legislation, which would amend the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act enacted in 1967, would mandate science-based criteria for all additional state and local labeling requirements, allow state-required labeling information to be provided via SmartLabel and on websites and make sure the product information is risk-based. It would not change current federal laws regarding nutrition facts, allergens and medicines.
- This act sets out definitions for specific types of consumer product labeling, such as chemical composition and radiation, and lays out scientific standards that would be required under risk-based labeling. The standards include taking into account the "best available science" and how likely the product would be to cause injury.
Backers of the proposed bill say it would alleviate consumer confusion over a slew of more recent product labeling requirements enacted on the state level. The Coalition for Accurate Product Labels — comprised of 36 organizations, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation — reported that, in 2018, 30 proposals in 11 states required warning labels or ingredient listings on items such as french fries and coffee that go beyond national standards.
Unfounded warning labels cost manufacturers and consumers more money, hinder interstate commerce, and expose farmers, small businesses, retailers and manufacturers to legal action, the group said.
The bill's sponsors seemed particularly irked by California's Proposition 65 mandating warning labels on products deemed to contain cancer-causing ingredients, including coffee. Backers of the legislation also mentioned warning labels on sweetened beverages, which has been proposed by New York City, San Francisco and Baltimore.
Oregon's Rep. Schrader said in a release, "When we have mandatory cancer warnings on a cup of coffee, something has gone seriously wrong with the process. We now have so many warnings unrelated to the actual health risk posed to consumers, that most people just ignore them. Enough is enough."
Manufacturers and retailers are closely following the issue as they try to balance demands for transparency with the need to be clear and accurate. Many consumers are baffled by the increasing number of labels on food and beverage products, especially when they see "non-GMO" and "organic." Despite the confusion, though, those words can drive sales since shoppers note they would pay more for items carrying such labels.
Food makers also worry about the additional costs of meeting labeling requirements required by states and cities, as well as its impact on interstate commerce. They could face hefty fines if they miss a warning label, like the one needed on coffee sold in California.
If the Accurate Labels Act were enacted now, it would not permit any state to impose information, warning and labeling requirements on consumer commodities or products that are in addition to, or different than, requirements under the federal Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.
Other congressional legislation has tried to block federal or state labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. Former U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., sponsored the Safe and Accurate food Labeling Act for that purpose, which passed the House in 2015, but a related proposal failed the following year to garner the require 60 votes in the Senate.