California Republican State Senator Tony Strickland has proposed SB 1106, which would require government warning labels on reusable bags and at stores where bags are sold. The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Commitee on Monday, April 23.
While we are opposed to the bill in its current form, we want to encourage Senator Strickland’s apparent embrace—however misplaced--of the ‘precautionary principle’. In that spirit, we have provided Senator Strickland with suggestions in the following ‘Oppose unless amended’ letter.
April 16, 2012
Senator Tony Strickland
Sacramento, CA 95814
Re: SB 1106 (Strickland) Grocery Bag Warning Labels - Oppose Unless Amended
Dear Senator Strickland:
In its current form, we must oppose your SB 1106, which would require that every ‘Reusable Bag’ sold in this state carry a prescriptive government warning label that reads (in 10 point type):
"WARNING: Reusable bags must be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent food cross contamination. Failure to do so can cause serious illness, cancer, or birth defects resulting from food-borne pathogens. Once used for other purposes, reusable bags should not be used for carrying groceries."
We believe a government mandate requiring consumers to ‘clean and disinfect (bags) between uses’ is unnecessary, patronizing, and frankly absurd. None of the ailments cited in the second sentence of the above warning has ever been linked to the use of reusable bags.
The bill contains a number of findings regarding dire consequences resulting from contaminated food and food borne illnesses. However, not one finding makes any connection between known or suspected incidents of food-borne illness and the use of reusable bags. Subdivision (j) of the findings raises the concern:
"A sudden or significant increase in the use of reusable bags without a major public education campaign on how to reduce the risk of cross contamination would create the risk of significant adverse public health impacts."
However, we don’t need to speculate on the prospect of a significant increase in the use of reusable bags—it’s already occurred. Over 43 California jurisdictions have adopted ordinances banning single use plastic bags and promoting reusables. About 1 in 5 Californians live in a jurisdiction that has banned plastic bags, and that number grows monthly. According to the California Grocers Association, in California communities that have banned plastic bags, 75-90% of consumers bring their own bag. LA County reports a 94% reduction in all single use bags. Despite this sudden and significant growth in the use of reusable bags in these communities and across the U.S, there has been no increase in the incidence or reporting of associated food borne illness.
In the hierarchy of real and potentially problems associated with the use and mis-use of products for which a government mandated warning label might possibly be warranted, a consumers use of a reusable grocery bag must rank near the bottom.
However, if it is your belief that such an extraordinary level of governmental oversight and guidance is necessary, we would ask that you balance the threat level associated with various means of carrying groceries by amending SB 1106 to include the following additional labeling and signage requirements that address more likely public health threats associated with grocery bags:
1) No person shall manufacture, sell, or distribute in commerce a plastic bag that does not contain the following warning label in 10-point type:
"WARNING: The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 25 children die every year in the United States due to plastic bags. To avoid the danger of suffocation and choking, keep this plastic bag out of any home with a baby or small child. Plastic bags also kill birds, turtles, whales and other wildlife. Even after being properly discarded, plastic bags can blow from trash cans, recycling bins, and landfills where the littered bags pose a serious threat to wildlife through entanglement, choking, ingestion and potentially death."
2) No person shall manufacture, sell, or distribute in commerce a paper bag that does not contain the following warning label in 10-point type:
"WARNING: Handling or folding this bag may result in a paper cut. All cuts should be cleaned with soap and water and covered with a clean dry bandage. Infected minor cuts rarely turn into systemic problems, but if the red margin of the wound starts to look streaky or the red starts to follow veins in streaks, this is a sign of serious, potentially fatal infection of the bloodstream and needs emergency treatment."
3) The following warning shall be conspicuously displayed on a five-inch by eight-inch sign with 18 point type near any display where grocery bags are handled by consumers.
"WARNING: Improper lifting of grocery bags may result in injury to the lower back. Always lift with your back straight and knees bent. Lifting a 20 lb bag of groceries 20 inches away from the body will place 400 lbs of compressive force on the spine. Never bend your back to pick something up. Lower back pain costs Americans $50 billion annually.
We urge you to reconsider SB 1106 in its current form.