Recently we posted about pending legislation that would have gutted hundreds of state and local food safety laws. The argument was that the federal government could do this more consistently and eliminate the confusion of a patchwork of different laws. The patchwork would be eliminated all right. And the replacement would be all one color: white, as in whitewash.
Now the government’s
watchdog lapdog agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent a report to Congress on the food industry’s compliance with labeling regulations in response to concerns about inaccurate nutrition information and misleading health-related claims on food labels. A real consumer watchdog group wasn’t very happy with the result:
“The FDA’s report to Congress demonstrates that the specific issues of concern to the Committee (…) have been the casualty of not only budget cuts, but a lack of commitment on the part of the Agency to fulfill its mission,” wrote [Center for Science in the Public Interest] legal director Bruce Silverglade to the Congressional committees responsible for FDA appropriations.
“The fact that FDA inspectors eye-balled 28,000 labels to see if mandatory information was listed does little to stop misleading health-related claims that pervade the marketplace and that make it difficult for consumers to comply with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” it said.
And of the warning letters and recalls resulting from the samples taken for nutrition analysis, the CSPI rebuttal claimed that “most appear to involve safety concerns”, such as the failure to include allergenic ingredients in the ingredients list. (Food Navigator)
While safety issues are important, they weren’t the focus of the Congressional concern that prompted the report. Misleading or inaccurate labeling was. According to CSPI the FDA is abrogating its responsibility to police false and misleading label claims, forcing the organization to do the job FDA is supposed to do:
“Misleading claims for everything from ‘energy’ drinks to ordinary bread masquerading as ‘whole wheat’ have proliferated and also deserve systematic enforcement efforts, but the Agency has taken no action,” it claimed.
“In light of the FDA’s abdication of its traditional role, CSPI has sued, or threatened to sue, leading companies engaged in misleading labeling. In the last year, we obtained settlements from such companies as Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Frito-Lay, and Pinnacle Foods,” it said.
“If a small non-profit association can force settlements with major companies, then the FDA surely could find a couple of motivated lawyers among its more than 10,000 person staff to stop misleading labeling practices. Presently, at FDA’s headquarters, only four people are assigned to identify and stop deceptive labeling, but they told CSPI that they only have time to respond to questions, not take the initiative. If the Agency had the will to act, it could find the necessary resources to enforce the law,” said the CSPI in its rebuttal.
Your federal government. Not at work.