Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Food Still On The Table, Governator Weighs In

Recently the House passed its version of The National Uniformity for Foods Act, HR 4167.  If the pending Senate version of this legislation is passed, years of state statutes regarding food labelling could be undone.  


The House of Representatives has passed a controversial "national food uniformity" labeling law that would take away local government and states' power to require food safety food labels such as those required in California and other states on foods or beverages that are likely to cause cancer, birth defects, allergic reactions, or mercury poisoning. This bill would also prevent citizens in local municipalities and states from passing laws requiring that genetically engineered foods and ingredients such as Monsanto's recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) be labeled.

States will actually be required to apply to the federal government for leave to deviate in labelling requirements.  States which currently have more stringent labelling standards would need federal permission to continue this practice.  The Senate version is still pending.


The National Uniformity for Foods Act, which passed the House of Representatives in March, would roll back essential food safety laws and would preempt state and local authorities by prohibiting states and localities from enacting food safety regulations stronger than those required by the federal government. It would also prevent state and local governments from filling gaps in food safety laws whenever the federal government has no warning standard for a food product.

Accordingly, Governor Schwarzenegger has thrown his, umm, weight, into the opposition to this legislation, joining Senators Feinstein and Boxer.  The concern is that the federal legislation would undo Proposition 65.  His full letter to Senator Feinstein appears below.

April 18, 2006

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein United States Senate Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Feinstein,

Thank you for your letter regarding HR 4167, the "National Uniformity for Food Act of 2005."

California has a long and proud tradition of setting landmark health and environmental standards that become the basis of similar actions in other states and at the federal level. I am a strong believer in the rights of individual states to enact laws that protect its citizens and the environment, and the federal government should not interfere in a state's ability to do so.

I share your deep concern regarding the potential consequences this legislation could have on our consumers and public health. As you well know, the history of Proposition 65 ("Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986") is rooted in the power of the people to enact legislation. In fact, California voters by a sixty-three percent majority passed Proposition 65 in 1986. The citizens of our great State fought hard to provide warning labels on products that knowingly expose individuals to any substance that may cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. As drafted, HR 4167 would expressly preempt state authority to issue warnings related to public health and safety as currently provided under Proposition 65.

For example, as a result of Proposition 65 Mexican candy manufacturers were forced to reduce harmful levels of lead in the products they sell in California; several major vendors of bottled water were forced to remove cancer-causing arsenic from their products. Major California supermarket chains now post warnings in their fresh and frozen fish sections that contain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and California Department of Health Services recommendations for safe consumption of fish that contain mercury. These same FDA recommendations are not posted in retail outlets in other states, but rather on the FDA website. I am very concerned that HR 4167 would remove our ability to require these signs in California and undermine our ability to protect our citizens and promote consumer awareness.

As you know, the FDA has limited activity concerning food contaminants that cause cancer or reproductive effects. FDA's food labeling requirements focus on nutritional content and its advisories focus on short-term health issues. This is very important but fails to consider longer-term concerns over carcinogens and reproductive toxicants, which are specifically provided for under Proposition 65. As such, our California laws fill a gap in important federal FDA programs.

I oppose Congressional preemption of Proposition 65 and I look forward to working with you and our Congressional Delegation to continue California's legitimate and rightful role of upholding strong public health and food safety standards.


Arnold Schwarzenegger Governor of the State of California


Please call your SenateCritter and state your disgust in no uncertain terms.  This legislation must be defeated.

The Fox Is Guarding the Henhouse

In the wake of recent oil industry profits and recent gasoline price increases, President Bush has ordered an inquiry.


April 25 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush has ordered the Justice Department to look for possible manipulation of gasoline prices and announced he is halting deposits to the nation's strategic oil reserve in response to rising prices.

``The first thing to do is to make sure Americans are treated fairly at the gas pump,'' Bush said. ``This administration is not going to tolerate manipulation.''

Well, okay, perhaps the administration will tolerate some manipulation. But not
too much.


"The prices that people are paying at the gas pump reflect our addiction to oil," he said in an address to an industry group in Washington.

No, George, the prices that people are paying at the gas pump reflect the depth
to which the oil industry is essentially involved in the operations of our government. This "inquiry" is merely theater for the masses, a shocking assertion, I know.


The oil industry is one of the biggest donors to Republican election campaigns. In 2004, the industry gave 80 percent of its $26 million in campaign donations to Republican candidates, including $2.6 million to Bush. That was the Republicans' biggest share in at least a decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group. In 2005, the industry gave 84 percent of $7 million to the Republicans, and the top 20 congressional recipients of the industry's giving were all Republicans.

Ah, the appearance of actually doing something.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FTC chief Deborah Platt Majoras today sent letters to state attorneys general pledging cooperation on investigations and saying the agencies ``have substantially increased our efforts at the federal level to monitor, detect, pursue and prevent any violations of the law in this industry.''

The FTC will send a final report to Congress by May 19 on whether businesses have manipulated gasoline markets and prices.

Here is one reaction.

Past investigations of priced gouging have ``come to the same conclusion, the industry is reasonably competitive and the explanation for price
increases lies in other causes,'' said Bert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute. ``The prospect of either agency at this time coming in with a report that blames the industry strikes me as fairly low.''

Fairly low or not at all? Hmm.

But this is encouraging.


Spitzer blames President Bush for rising gas prices

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Democrat Eliot Spitzer on Monday said he's investigating whether oil producers are price gouging and blamed Republican President Bush for rising prices at the pump.

"This is, once again, demonstrative of the complete failure of energy policy that we have seen out of Washington over the last five years and, frankly, it goes back farther than that," said Spitzer, a candidate for governor.

Spitzer said he is investigating recent price increases by the complicated
"vertically integrated" oil companies that drill, refine, distribute and sell gas retail. Spitzer announced his investigation as gas prices become a more prominent political issue. Crude-oil prices hit record highs in recent weeks and average gasoline prices nationwide neared $3 a gallon.

"We have to go through that analysis to see whether increased costs are any
rationale for those increased prices," Spitzer said.

I wish Attorney General Spitzer the best of luck.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Georgia Goes Where Others Won't: Immigration

Not content to simply sit on the sidelines and watch the current federal fracas on immigration, the state of Georgia has enacted its own legislation.  The controversial new law seeks to deny services to so called illegal immigrants.

NYT Link

ATLANTA, April 17 -- Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a sweeping immigration bill on Monday that supporters and critics say gives Georgia some of the nation's toughest measures against illegal immigrants.

The law requires verification that adults who seek many state-administered benefits are in the United States legally. Employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants face sanctions, and companies with state contracts must check employees' immigration status.

And, of course, the police will be under a similar duty.

The law also requires that the police check the status of people they arrest.

Such a provision seems designed to ease the inception of national identity cards.  (I'm reminded of countless old movies where individuals were requested to produce their "papers".)

There was swift public reaction from those on both sides of the issue.

The bill drew demonstrators on both sides at the Capitol here and prompted a daylong work stoppage by thousands of immigrants.

The Mexican government stated its own concerns.


MEXICO CITY, April 18 (Xinhua) -- The Mexican government criticized the U.S. state of Georgia on Tuesday for approving a law which imposed heavier penalties on undocumented migrants and made new demands on employers.

Ruben Aguilar, spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox, told reporters that Mexico was worried that the law, "part of Georgia's legal arrangement," discriminated against Mexicans.

At least the provision of emergency services will remain unchanged.  The governor had this cheery attempt at reassurance.

Governor Perdue, a Republican, said at the signing: "I want to make this clear -- we are not, Georgia's government is not, and this bill is not, anti-immigrant. We simply believe that everyone who lives in our state needs to abide by our laws."

Yeah, right.


The governor's official press release is here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Even More Mad Cow

Unknown to me at the time of the last posting was the discovery of an additional U.S. case of mad cow disease. This time it may cause a halt to U.S. imports of beef to South Korea.

ENS Link

SEOUL (Yonhap) ? The United States has failed to provide the date of birth of a cow linked to a third case of mad cow disease on its shores, a matter that could jeopardize Seoul's resumption of American beef imports, the government said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry said Washington forwarded information on the cow Friday but gave no conclusive evidence to indicate its age.

``The data contained expert testimonies by veterinarians, but we cannot determine for certain if the cow was born before April 1998,'' said Park Hyun-chul, head of the ministry's livestock bureau.

The date is significant because if the animal was born after this date, South Korea could halt all efforts to renew imports of American beef. The date is when new measures to prevent mad cow disease went into full effect in the United States.

In March, Washington confirmed the discovery of a third case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease. Seoul placed an import ban on American beef after the first BSE case was discovered in 2003.

Maybe it's tin foil hat time, but could this really be an isolated case? Given the recent discovery of a case in British Columbia, Canada, it seems that more is here than meets the eye.

Of course, if there were more cases to disclose, the beef industry would suffer greatly. But we couldn't let the public welfare get ahead of the interests of big business, could we?

Friday, April 14, 2006

More Mad Cow Disease

Another case of (suspected) mad cow disease has been reported in British Columbia, Canada. (Perhaps it's time for Gateway to consider a new logo.)

ENS Link

Canada's Fifth Mad Cow Case Found in British Columbia

OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, April 13, 2006 (ENS) - A cow from British Columbia is suspected of having mad cow disease, formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). If confirmed, this would be the fifth case of the fatal brain disease found in Canada. Since Canadian beef and cattle are imported into the United States, there are concerns that the finding could depress demand for beef across North America.

Perhaps it's tin-foil hat time, but could this be only the tip of the iceberg? Well, the relavant officials do their best to smooth things over.

"This case, if positive, has no bearing on the safety of Canadian beef," said the CFIA. "Canada has a suite of internationally recognized safeguards that work together to provide high levels of human and animal health protection."...

"While the animal was born after the introduction of the feed ban, almost every country with BSE has found and continues to find a few cases born after the introduction of feed controls," the CCA said today.

Of course, this is the bottom line on the other side of the border:

U.S. stockgrowers are concerned that mad cow disease can enter their herds from their neighbor to the north.

How that would happen is not entirely clear. But until there is more information, beef will be what's not for dinner.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Getting F*cked For Industry: Nuclear & Air Quality

Bending over backwards for the interests of industry has become the lifestyle of choice for this administration.  And so it continues.

Currently, two federal agencies have advanced this cause, to the exclusion of safety interests.

According to the GAO, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has diminished its own security regulations.  And apparently, it has done so at the suggestion of the industry.

NYT Link

WASHINGTON, April 3 -- After consulting with the industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission weakened security regulations it had proposed for reactors, government auditors said in a report to be released on Tuesday.

The auditors said the process "created the appearance that the changes were made based on what the industry considered reasonable and feasible to defend against rather than an assessment of the terrorist threat itself."

This study was requested by Rep. Christopher Shays (R.-Conn.), chairman of the subcommittee on national security of the House Government Reform Committee.  Rep. Shays does not mince words.

"These G.A.O. findings paint a decidedly mixed picture of nuclear power security today. While documented progress has been made in strengthening reactor security standards, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seems unable to fortify itself against the dangers of an overly cozy relationship with the industry."..."The regulated should not even appear to be able to dictate security standards to the regulator."

Mr.David Lochbaum, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, had this to say, in part:

"How did the commissioners decide to overrule their staff?"

Finally, public discussion has been severely curtailed.

The commission has cut off almost all public discussion on security issues; the government accountability report is one of the few independent looks at the status of the plants.

NRC propaganda, including security information, can be found here.

In an apparent effort at one-upsmanship in gift-giving to industry, the EPA has a secret proposal that would lower many air pollution standards paving the way for greatly increased emission of various toxins.  The proposal has caused internal divisions at the agency.


WASHINGTON (April 3, 2006) -- A secret proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency, so controversial that it has provoked strong internal dissent, would weaken nearly 100 toxic air pollution standards and allow industrial plants across the country to emit significantly greater amount of toxins, according to a draft rule obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The draft rule would seriously erode existing standards under the Clean Air Act by permitting thousands of oil refineries, hazardous waste incinerators, chemical plants and steel mills to increase their emissions by as much as 50,000 pounds a year.

But relax, because the EPA, steadfast guardian of our interests, says that self-policing by industry will make certain a happy ending.

Yet EPA dismisses the concerns of its own experts by asserting that polluters would not increase their emissions because they fear "negative publicity" and because they want to "maintain their appearance as responsible businesses."

I feel warm inside already!

But getting back to reality, internal divisions over the proposal have caused regional offices to object in a 9 page memo.

The rule is so extreme that officials at nine out of the EPA's ten regional offices joined in a nine-page memo to protest the proposal, saying that, if implemented, it "would be detrimental to the environment and undermine the intent" of the Clean Air Act.

The scathing internal memo also said the rule would create a loophole that allows polluters to "virtually avoid regulation and greatly complicate any enforcement against them" and eliminate the ability of EPA and the public to effectively monitor and take action against toxic polluters.

Of course, this story would not be complete without the usual Bushco ironic nomination du jour, and Mr.Bush does not disappoint.

The rule was drafted during the tenure of William Wehrum, acting head of EPA's air office, and would reverse longstanding agency policy. The rule also seeks to go much further than a controversial 2003 approach sought by Wehrum's predecessor, Jeffery Holmstead.

President Bush has nominated Wehrum to succeed Holmstead. His confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled for Wednesday.

The NRDC is here.