By Nneka Leiba, Environmental Working Group
Food allergies don’t just cause hives or breathing problems – they can also kill. That’s why the so-called Regulatory Accountability Act, or RAA, moving through Congress should be called the License to Kill bill.
Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies – including almost 6 million children, or almost one in a dozen kids. More than 170 foods have been linked to allergic reaction. But labels on food packages only have to disclose eight allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and soybeans. For the Food and Drug Administration to add another one, such as sesame, the agency would have to issue a new rule.
But some politicians in Congress don’t like rules of any kind. So they’re pushing the RAA, which would require an endless loop of studies, court reviews and congressional approvals before the FDA or other agencies could adopt new rules. If it becomes law, no proposed rule would ever be able to clear all those hurdles.
The House has already passed its version of the bill. The Senate version of the bill would require federal agencies to pick the most cost-effective – read: cheapest for industry – option for implementing any proposed rule. It would also let food industry lobbyists challenge proposed rules through so-called adversarial hearings. Those same the food industry lobbyists fought for years against mandatory labeling of food allergens.
Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. Every year 200,000 Americans require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food.
And food allergies are on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the prevalence of food allergies in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011. The RAA poses a very real risk to the health of those kids and of all Americans. Instead of giving the food industry a license to kill, the Senate should kill the bill.