Preemption occurs when the state or federal government body passes a law or issues agency rules that eliminate or restrict the authority of local governments to regulate a certain issue. When local laws are preempted, they usually have no force or effect.
Innovative healthy eating policies are emerging at the local level – often after long and hard-fought grassroots community efforts – and helping to drive change at the state or federal level. Better school food standards, menu labeling, and artificial trans fat restrictions are all examples of federal policy efforts that have followed from local movements. These grassroots campaigns increase local awareness of healthy eating and food access issues, build community readiness and support, and foster public debate about the need for policy change and healthy social norms. A preemptive state or federal law can invalidate local healthy eating policies that represent years of efforts at the local level. Moreover, once enacted, preemptive laws are traditionally difficult to repeal, and can affect not only the legal but also the advocacy landscape for years to come.
During the past decade, several states have passed preemption laws that undermine local innovation and power to promote healthy eating. These laws typically preempt local laws relating to menu labeling and other restaurant-related measures; some go so far as to try to preempt local authority to address food-based health disparities. The food and beverage industry is powerful and has demonstrated a willingness to push a preemptive agenda in response to local efforts. Therefore, community members, advocates, and local policymakers working on healthy eating policy must be ready to address preemption efforts in their states.
Fortunately, there are resources to help prepare local advocates to preempt preemption: