Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Popcorn lung bill heads for House

Popcorn lung bill heads for House
By Kevin Drawbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration said on Tuesday it opposed a House of Representatives bill that would require federal regulation of exposure to a microwave popcorn additive linked to lung disease.

The chemical, diacetyl, gives microwave popcorn a buttery flavor and has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, or "popcorn lung," a disorder found in popcorn workers and possibly in one popcorn-eating consumer.

The bill orders quick action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and is expected to come to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday.

"It's a travesty that OSHA has done nothing to regulate this chemical, while workers have fallen seriously ill and some have actually died," said Democratic California Rep. Lynn Woolsey, the bill's sponsor.

But the White House said in a statement that it would be "premature" to regulate diacetyl as proposed by Woolsey.

Her bill would require the Labor Department to develop interim standards limiting diacetyl exposure by workers in flavor manufacturing plants and microwave popcorn factories. The interim standard would be effective until a final regulation takes effect within a two-year deadline.

No similar bill has been filed in the Senate.

The Bush administration said it wants to protect workers, but regulators need more time to figure out the causes of the disease, how much exposure is hazardous, and control measures.

"The administration does not believe that (the bill) in its present form is the best regulatory approach for protecting workers," the White House said.

Sen. Mike Enzi said OSHA is taking the right steps in conducting a thorough review of the matter. "We need a science-based solution, not a hasty legislative quick-fix," said the Wyoming Republican in a statement.

The Food and Drug Administration said September 5 it was investigating a report of a man who came down with the life-threatening disease after eating several bags of butter-flavored microwave popcorn each day.

In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said workers at factories making food flavorings and popcorn run the risk of contracting the disease, which causes coughing and shortness of breath and steadily worsens.

ConAgra Foods Inc, maker of Orville Redenbacher and Act II microwave popcorn brands, said earlier this month it would drop diacetyl from its butter-flavored microwave popcorn in the "near future" to safeguard its employees.

Weaver Popcorn Co Inc, maker of Pop Weaver microwave popcorn, said in August it removed diacetyl from its microwave popcorn, in part to address consumers' concerns.