COGC in Green Bay Press Gazette: Reject BPA Labeling Bill in the Badger State

The following appears in the Green Bay Press Gazette today

Over a century ago, Gov. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette Sr. advocated what would become to be known as the Wisconsin Idea, a principle that an effective government is a responsive government.

Today, lawmakers in Madison are beginning to neglect this compact, pursuing a political agenda that ignores informed debate and the well-being of their constituents.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, has introduced Assembly Bill 607, which would require manufacturers to “conspicuously label” food containers that contain bisphenol A, or BPA.

BPA is a compound that has been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration for over half a century to prevent food spoilage. Its use in food containers has allowed people to safely consume canned goods and has provided a healthful, lower-cost alternative to fresh fruits and vegetables.

The bill would put Wisconsin at odds with most governments’ treatment of BPA; the FDA has repeatedly affirmed its safety and utility in food packaging. The European Union and Canada’s regulatory bodies have all rejected the notion that BPA poses a human health risk.

Still, some lawmakers are feigning to know better than the scientific community and regulatory experts. Taylor claims “currently, consumers are left to guess” whether BPA is present in food packaging. But BPA is a polymer that is so useful it appears in items as varied as automobile parts and medical devices. Targeting one industry hardly alleviates this perceived ambiguity.

What’s more, the courts have rejected the notion that a labeling mandate can be warranted by curiosity alone. Federal rulings assert that a labeling law must apply to a product that is materially different than the product to which a label would not apply.

The bill statement attempts to link BPA to myriad health concerns, but these claims have no scientific or regulatory consensus. Thus, it is likely that if AB 607 were to pass, Wisconsin taxpayers would be liable for potentially millions in litigation costs the state would incur defending the labeling in federal courts.

The bill would bring other costs to weigh considerably on Wisconsinites. Labeling proposals in other states (related to the disclosure of genetically engineered foods) have been estimated to increase families’ grocery costs by over $400 a year.

The squeeze a new labeling regime would put on manufacturers would not only increase prices; it could cause store owners to pull products from their shelves entirely if they are unable to absorb those costs. The federal government’s own literature encourages earners to purchase canned fruits and vegetables as a way to eat healthy on a budget; making those products more expensive and less available harms poorer Wisconsinites the most.

The prevalence of non-perishable items allow communities greater access to healthier foods; Under AB 607, rural regions and underserved urban areas may lose their options for fruits and vegetables when canned items are dropped from stores.

Of course, lawmakers in Madison will still be able to visit their west-end Whole Foods for fresh produce. Politicians will need to defend their first-class farmers’ market right on Capitol Square while working to construct food barriers for Wisconsinites elsewhere.

While the FDA has not arrived at the conclusion that BPA presents a notable health risk, the threat foodborne illnesses pose to Americans is well-documented. The FDA estimates roughly 48 million are afflicted by foodborne diseases each year, resulting in 3,000 deaths annually. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, however, cites safe canning as one of the reasons the threat of some foodborne diseases have been eliminated entirely.

An honest risk-benefit analysis of AB 607 would need to arrive at the conclusion that the supposed and unsubstantiated threats posed by BPA outweigh the tangible, documented success of its role in fighting food pathogens.

The Wisconsin Idea of social, academic and government collaboration is one worth preserving. Allowing Madison bureaucrats to dictate access to healthful food choices for the rest of the state threatens that tradition.

Mattie Duppler is director of budget and regulatory policy for Americans for Tax Reform. She is an Appleton native and University of Wisconsin graduate. You can follow her on Twitter @Mduppler.

TAGS: Regulation, issues

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