House Democrats are crafting legislation to make it illegal to sell infant formula in Arizona past its “use by” date.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, DPhoenix, said Thursday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded that formula sold after that date may not contain the nutrient levels required by federal law.
The result, Sinema said, could be that mothers are inadvertently malnourishing their children.
Sinema conceded she and her Democrat colleagues had not even considered the issue until it was raised by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
The union is trying to unionize the Bashas’ grocery store chain, including Food City and AJ’s Markets. Union representatives claim that understaffing at those stores has led to large quantities of out-coded formula remaining on shelves.
Sinema and other Democrat supporters of the plan said, however, the issue transcends union organizing, as the law would apply to all stores in Arizona.
Mike Proulx, president of the Bashas’ chain, denied his stores sell outdated items. He said this legislation is simply “a smear campaign” by Sinema and other lawmakers and their union allies to discredit the stores because the employees have so far refused to join a union.
“Sinema — I’m going to try to be nice and kind here — has a reputation. It appears to be on her own political agenda to promote herself,” he said. “And so she’s riding any hot topic that comes by.”
Proulx also called the legislation unnecessary, saying the sale of these products already is regulated by both the state Department of Weights and Measures and the state Department of Health Services.
That is at least partly true.
Steve Meissner, spokesman for Weights and Measures, said his agency has no authority over sell dates.
Karen Sell, director of the Women, Infants and Children program of the Department of Health Services, said her agency does have contracts with all retailers about how baby formula is sold. She said that includes ensuring it is, in fact, sold by the “use by” date.
Sell said that, at the very least, her agency can force retailers to take outdated items off the shelves. The ultimate penalty for repeat violators is the loss of the right to accept WIC vouchers — federal checks which needy pregnant women and new mothers can use to buy formula, cereal, milk, vegetables and other items.
Sell said she can only check a representative sample of all retailers in the state on an annual basis. But Sell said she found no outdated formula on the shelves of any Bashas’ store.
Sinema said that only stores in the Bashas’ chain were checked — and only by UFCW representatives.
“That’s not my job,” she said. “I’m a legislator.”