Food industry groups are concerned about proposed state regulations that would require warning labels for foods that contain chemical compounds the state deems harmful.

The state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has put forward an early draft of the proposed regulations, which are a response to a 2005 court ruling in a lawsuit over warnings of mercury in dental amalgams. That ruling stipulated all consumer products sold in California must have easily accessible warnings about chemicals they contain that are on the state's extensive Proposition 65 list of hazardous substances.

The draft calls for a voluntary "retail food warning program" that food manufacturers and retailers could use instead of complying with a myriad of existing regulations on how to post Proposition 65 warnings.

The proposal calls for food manufacturers to post all warnings on a Web site and provide continual updates as they find out about new food products containing substances on the Proposition 65 list. Retailers would check the Web site every 90 days and post signs identifying the toxic compounds next to all affected food products.

Sam Delson, a spokesman for the Health Hazard Office, said the program is "intended to develop safe harbor regulations to assist manufacturers and retailers and protect them from having to respond to individual cases in court."

While food industry groups contend that some regulation is needed as a shield against a growing number of lawsuits over hazardous chemicals in food, they say the proposed draft is too cumbersome and costly.

Food makers single out one provision as especially irksome: requiring warnings for every product that contains any level of a Proposition 65 compound, even if in trace amounts less than existing limits.

"This is a pervasive issue for food products, since a very high percentage of food products could contain some level of Proposition 65 compounds," said Rob Neenan, vice president of government affairs for the California League of Food Processors, which represents many of the state's fruit and vegetable processing companies. "Giving warnings for each and every trace compound is not workable."

Grocers, meanwhile, call the warning methods themselves too costly.

"The proposal relies on unknown and as-yet undeveloped technology and on warning methods that are impractical and cost-prohibitive," said Dave Heylen, spokesman for the California Grocers Association.

Train Emissions Targeted

State air regulators are considering accelerating diesel emission reduction targets for freight and passenger trains.

Current plans call for a 65 percent reduction of diesel emissions from trains by 2020; a new proposal would require an 85 percent reduction by the same date. The California Air Resources Board late last month ordered staff to come up with new regulations. The proposal's centerpiece: swifter replacement of existing locomotives with newer, cleaner-burning ones.

Typically, it takes about 30 years for a locomotive fleet to turn over completely; the board wants to cut that to 10 years. This accelerated time line would result in the reduction of three tons per day of toxic diesel soot, according to a board press release.

Another requirement under consideration would force rail companies to install filters on locomotive engines to trap soot and other harmful particles.

"While we are pleased to have already reduced diesel emissions at the rail yards, it's not enough to protect those who live and work near rail yards," Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said in the release.

The proposals chiefly target freight locomotives operated by Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway Co., although some passenger train lines might also be included. Nichols said in the release that the agency will seek additional federal funding

BNSF Railway spokeswoman Lena Kent said the railroad companies have to make sure there's enough state and federal funding to help with the transition to new locomotives.

"We have already been acquiring cleaner-burning locomotives," Kent said. "But if we're going to make an accelerated time line, we need government incentives."

Trash Fine

The California Air Resources Board also announced it had fined a City of Industry waste hauler $270,000 for violations of emissions rules.

In levying the fine against Arakelian Enterprises, doing business as Athens Services, the air board said the company failed to inspect its trucks and failed to install legally required diesel emission reduction devices on its vehicles from 2004 through 2008.

According to the air board, Arakelian Enterprises has agreed to ensure its inspectors take training classes at a community college, document future inspections, install the latest software and pollution control equipment.

Calls to Athens Services were not returned.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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