Sen. Orrin Hatch's recent column ("Saccharin, Bacon and the Law," op-ed, Nov. 10) restates two myths that continue to cloud the debate about the Delaney Clause, the provision of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that bans the use of food additives found to cause cancer. Sen. Hatch then uses the myths in an attempt to generate support for his bill (S1442) that would effectively repeal the Delaney Clause, as well as undermine other food safety laws.
The first myth is that Delaney applies to "any substance shown to induce cancer in man or animal." Sen. Hatch claims it applies even to onions and potatoes, which he implies are carcinogens.
The Delaney clause does not cover every substance; it covers only those chemicals and substances that are added to foods, and certain animal drugs. Because these additives are either generally interchangeable (for example, most preservatives) or are relatively unimportant (for example, color additives), banning those that cause cancer makes sense.
The second myth perpetuated by Hatch is that the Delaney Clause covers infinitesimal amounts of substances that can migrate from food packaging to foods. More than two years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Food and Drug Administration may approve a food packaging material even if it contains trace amounts of a carcinogen, as long as the amount that migrates to food is "so negligible as to present no public health or safety concerns" (Monsanto v. Kennedy). The same principle applies to trace amounts of other substances in food.
Anyone who has studied the senator's proposal -- and anyone who does not represent a food processor -- would dispute his statement that the bill simply gives some "fine tuning" to the Delaney Clause. As Richard Cooper, former chief counsel of the FDA, has concluded, Hatch's bill would actually "gut" the anti-cancer clauses of our present law.
Hatch's proposal would also water down other food safety standards and create procedural hurdles that would tie the FDA in knots. Cooper has estimated that, under Hatch's bill, the FDA would require at least nine years to ban a food additive.
Congress has found it necessary to make an exception to the Delaney Clause only once in 20 years, which proves the provision has served us well. That occurred four years ago when Congress directed the FDA to leave saccharin on the market despite the FDA's findings that saccharin is a carcinogen.
During the next several months, Congress will be faced with a question of whether the single example of saccharin is sufficient justification for completely overhauling the laws that until now have given us one of the safest food supplies in the world.