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Steve Chapman asks whether we need a bigger FDA to save us from unclean foods.

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  • BTS||

    It took me a little while to figure out what that was on the bread in that picture. Now I don't wanna eat breakfast.

  • ||

    As a small scale producer of vegetables I can see how larger companies can have food poisoning occur on thier watch. Once there are several processes and people responsible for making these things happen, the law of averages suggests that bad things could occur. There are no simple solutions for this. If you bring in the government to monitor each and every producer, there are not enough people around to do said monitoring. Not only that but incompetence tends to be rewarded in large institutions such as the government. It is in a companies best interest to make sure that they do the monitoring themselves... which seems simple enough, but is fraught with the same issues that government has. All that said it would seem like I am suggesting that people buy from small local producers...And that is all fine and well but in reality how do you go about feeding 300,000,000 people without some sort of incidents such as food poisoning happen. If you look at it another way, if things at these larger producers are so horrible there would be so many more of the poisonings. The reality is that the food supply is pretty darn safe. Consider that for all the hype aobut food safety Americans consume close to one billion meals per day...And very few of those are contaminated with toxins and pollutants that will make one immediately sick... (Maybe on down the line, but that is a different story for a different day) Obviously I think that people should understand more about where thier food comes from and should demand better quality food... but the food that is available for consuimption right now is about as safe as can be....

  • ||

    Bingo. Dead on target.

    As a result of the Peter Pan recall:

    As a result of the pet food recall:

    They didn't think we'd notice.

    As long as we're kept sickly, lethargic and confused, the megaconglomerates' profits will increase.

    Healthy - we're no good to them.

    Dead on.

  • Fluffy||

    CNN did a piece on this the other day [I honestly can't remember if it was Sanjay or Anderson] and I think people who are concerned about having organic food choices available to them should be very concerned about this issue.

    They had a scum-sucking parasite liability lawyer on, and they stood outside a farm and the lawyer ticked off all the things about the farm that he thought "irresponsibly" raised the risk of e coli in a way that he felt should create liability for the farmer.

    Those things included:

    Having fields near a public road.

    Having fields near a forest that contained wildlife.

    Raising animals on the same farm where produce was grown.

    There were others, but it doesn't matter. On the basis of those three, every farm in New England, and probably every organic farm in the country, and PROBABLY every non- agribusiness farm in the nation, is an irresponsible actor that deserves to be shut down by liability lawsuits, according to the bastard they interviewed.

    I think that when the difficulty to remove a particular pathogen from the system reaches the point where it can't be done reasonably, we just have to accept the fact that once in a while people are going to get sick. You can't be held liable if the flu is going around and you catch it and pass it on to someone else, because it's not reasonable to believe that you can stop yourself from catching it or from passing it on with reasonable effort.

  • Dave W.||

    Point 1: Customers can leave

    This really depends on the degree of centralization in the food supply and its management. If a single producer, or a few working in close parallel, supply all the grocery shelves and restaurants within public transit distance of a customer's apartment, then, no, the customer cannot leave in any meaningful sense. Which brings us to . . .

    Point 2: Customers can leave, and lawsuits can exact ruinous judgments.

    When customers can't leave, do tort lawsuits become more important in the big picture? Is "lawsuits can exact ruinous judgments" the corporatarian way of saying: "Spare the rod, spoil the child."?

    Point 3: They say that improved hygiene, especially clean water and food, is responsible for a lot more of the long average life expectancy we enjoy than pharmaceuticals. Sometimes it is good to reflect on that and not take it for granted, especially when we consider how much we pay for our own drugs and those of other people.

  • ||

    It's important for us libertarians to keep each other on our toes.

    Therefore, I submit for your disapproval this Paul Krugman article arguing the diametric opposite position of Stephen Chapman. He even goes so far as to blame Milton Friedman('s ideology) for endangering our food supply!

    Remember, Krugman is a highly respected economist, so it's out-of-bounds to say he doesn't "know his economics."

  • ||

    Krugman also hates freedom.

  • ||

    Having fields near a forest that contained wildlife.


  • Fluffy||

    One problem with Krugman's article is that he does not consider all the reasons why members of an industry might "beg to be regulated".

    He asserts that it's because wonderful "good actors" don't want nefarious producers to have some sort of advantage - but I think you could just as easily claim that it's because big producers know that increased regulation will drive out small producers. Especially since, as above, one of the ways to be "safer" about e coli is to practice monoculture farming, and not have any evil farm animals around.

    In my limited experience in my own industry, every time an industry group has advocated regulation it has been a ploy to raise barriers to entry. I see no reason to believe that agriculture is different.

  • ||

    My only comment is that Krugman is a fucker for blaming the tainted pet food situation on Milton Freidman. He says Friedman is to blame because he wanted to abolish both the food and drug sides of the FDA, so his attitude led to little Fluffers dying from eating Melamine. But wait, Krugmeister! The FDA wasn't disbanded. The exact regulations that you prescribe are alread in place. So suck it, Paul, my favorite hobbit can kick your ass economically any day of the week.

  • Dave W.||

    I think the thing that made the tainted pet food thing unique is that it cut across so many "brands." I mean, we know in the abstract that a lot of apparently different brands, a lot of apparent competition, is just a sham -- a front for a monopolist-type operation. With the pet food scare, it became clearer as to what that lack of competition can mean.

    I mean, the monopoly is not absolute. We have long fer our cats premium, made-in-Canada food bought at a pet store for a premium price. really, it would be a better state of affairs if I could get that stuff at the g*****n supermarket, instead of making a special trip every few months. Supermarket, however, is too busy selling the same food under different brands in a sham, meaningless competition so that we can perpetuate the illusion that we are living in the world of Smith and Friedman. We sort of are, in the sense that I can get my preemo catfood, and we are sorta not, in the sense that I have to expend more energy doing this than I should really have to. Fortunately, my cats are special and they are worth it.

  • ||

    Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, keeps coming to mind. A shining example of the care for food safety shown by food manufacturers.

  • ||

    What a misleading title. This article doesn't say a thing about haram foods.

  • ||

    Fresh, nutritious food spoils, attracts pathogens, bacteria etc. and when eating this food over a lifetime, yes you're going to get sick once in a while. Deal with it. You're immune system will get stronger as a result and you'll be healthier for it. Yes of course there will be outbreaks that are more serious, but as the article mentions that's not in any producers interest.

    Federal regulations do have the effect of squeezing out the small producers and are thus welcomed by the centralized mass producers with huge lobbying efforts.

    Both subsidies and regulations have externalities, good and bad. The bad outweight the good in this case, in my opinion.

    I'd prefer to not have all of food come from a massive, centralized, goverment controlled food producer - even if it means that occasionally I'll get the runs.

  • Dave W.||

    Federal regulations do have the effect of squeezing out the small producers and are thus welcomed by the centralized mass producers with huge lobbying efforts.

    How do you know that this happens with food regulations? Link? Does every food regulation have this effect or just some? In 1992, the FDA said that it would not regulate genetically modified foods. Does this absence of regulation help food small producers? Really?

  • ||

    The FDA appears to be one of those agencies that does its job so well people forget why it was needed in the first place.

  • Fluffy||

    Dave -

    It seems pretty straightforward that the opposition to genetically modified crops and food animals is based on a desire to restrict production.

    The real opposition to it in the producer community doesn't arise from the fact that it's "unsafe", but from the fact that it has higher yields. Producers who want high prices don't want to see genetically engineered cows increase the glut of milk.

    So that would be an example of the other kind of regulation - the kind sought by inefficient producers to make sure efficient producers don't outcompete them. You know, like a union. My own experience hasn't included a lot of regulations of this kind so I forgot about them in my post above. Thanks for the reminder.

  • ||

    Issues like the FDA are IMO the central ones where libertarianism breaks down. The debate always falls into the following assertion:
    "It is in a companies best interest to make sure that they do the monitoring themselves" and so the market (dare I say magical mystical?) will heal itself on this issue. There is SOME truth to that, as long as the Fourth Estate does its job BTW and publicizes the failures. But who in the world do you think does the investigation that tracks back from the sick folks to the culprit? The government brother. I once read someone hear, on the related topic of pollution, actually suggest that a consumers digest sort of enterprise could replace the government's EPA (here just replace EPA with FDA). That shows real devotion to first principles, the willingness to engage in such mental gymnastics rather than admit that your first principles aren't, well, magical and mystical (meaning they do not possibly cover everything). First there would be a huge free rider problem with such enterprises (I won't subscribe, I'll just wait to they release their findings about who is poisioning who and then avoid). Second, a very small portion of the public reads Consumer Reports as it is, a small enough portion that many if not most companies can just ignore it and not cater to it (I mean, just make another ad with cool hot models enjoying your product to pop music and you will overwhelm any such report). No, I'm afraid we need a governmental agency, an independent agency with enforcement powers (rather than just persuasion power) to keep us safe here (and in environmental matters). In fact, if the FDA did not exist companies would have to create something like it, or consumers would just eat imported food or such (like they started doing pre-FDA back in the 'Jungle' days). Such regulation, like the regulation of weights and measures or fraud, makes the market possible in the first place.

  • Dave W.||

    The real opposition to it in the producer community doesn't arise from the fact that it's "unsafe", but from the fact that it has higher yields. Producers who want high prices don't want to see genetically engineered cows increase the glut of milk.

    and if there is a problem, then we just switch back, with a side of ruinous lawsuits. I get it now.

  • Fluffy||

    Dan -

    I think the food safety laws are a lot like the child labor laws - laws passed after the market had already changed the environment.

    Regardless of what Upton Sinclair had to say, the food supply enjoyed by the average American from 1900-1930 was vastly safer than the food supply enjoyed by the average American 50 to 100 years previously. Frankly, the type of material the muckrakers were doing ["There is a rodent hair in your ground hamburger!"] only made sense because it was directed at an urban audience that had been disconnected from the conditions of food production that existed under small-scale subsistence agriculture. Kind of like the way that child labor, which had been universal in agricultural societies, was trending dramatically down in turn of the century America, just in time for progressives to pat themselves on the back for "getting rid of it".

  • ||

    Ken wins the thread.

    A well regulated market beats a free market everytime.

    Regulatory mechanisms emerge in all complex adaptive systems and markets are complex adaptive systems.

  • ||

    Fluffy, there's no doubt some truth to that, but it's pretty hard to pin down.

    I guess the people would not have demanded that government regulate food safety, child labor, etc. unless they were ready for it, and if they were ready for it they'd also demand that private industry clean up its act simultaneously.

    I think there is some truth to the idea that if we got rid of the FDA tomorrow, our food safety would probably remain the same 99% of the time. But that 1% could be a real nightmare, especially considering that tainted food is not exactly something that will always be obvious to the market.

  • ||

    And for the dolts...

    Well regulated market does not equal centrally controlled command economy.

  • dhex||

    "As long as we're kept sickly, lethargic and confused, the megaconglomerates' profits will increase."

    wouldn't they make more money if we're energetic and healthy because we'd be more productive?

    oh wait i broke character -

    OH NOES TEH CORPORASHUNS!!!1!!1oneone!

  • Carl||

    For Neu Mexican and Ken -

    Why does such organization have to emerge out of the state? I'm fairly certain that without state intervention food suppliers and more importantly insurers of food suppliers would be tripping over themselves to create their own regulatory framework. You forget that there are alternative market based solutions that don't require the state. Or maybe you don't and are willfully ignoring them. Who does a better job testing car safety? The feds or the IIHS? I'd take an insurance company any day.

    And for Ken there's that little shard of "everyone is dumb and duped by advertising and therefore needs protection from themselves" in what he's saying. That really gets to me. I really don't think libertarianism breaks down at all.

    Maybe I'm just a stupid dolt though...

  • ||

    I'm fairly certain that without state intervention food suppliers and more importantly insurers of food suppliers would be tripping over themselves to create their own regulatory framework.

    This is kind of like saying, "without the state, people would just create their own state". The government is the regulatory framework that we've created.

  • ||


    You are not a dolt.

    And regulatory mechanism emerge both within and outside of the state. No argument there. And sometimes those outside of the state work better.

    But not always.

    Are you willing to recognize that?

    As far as advertising goes... far too much scientific evidence to support the idea that people are duped by it to ignore. Why do you think advertising is so pervasive if it doesn't work?

    Libertarianism is as vulnerable to breakdown as any other system built upon axioms (which most are). Any time your axiomatic assumption is imperfect (which most are), it will breakdown at the point where the imperfection manifests in reality. A flexible system that is willing to adjust the axiom when that occurs will move towards better performance. Rigid adherence to the axiom will keep the system's performance stable at its current level of validity (or invalidity).

    Adaptive political systems outperform rigid political systems...that's why the US system has been so successful... it is adaptive.

  • ||

    A nice example of non-state mechanisms is the "Fair Trade" movement. A totally voluntary private effort.

    One that Reason tried to discredit a while back since those practicing it come from a different ideology and have different societal goals.

  • ||

    I was going to say, "they can have my E. coli when they pry it out of my cold dead intestines..."
    but as I am an actual microbiologist (at FDA - government weenie alert!!!) I'll let you know this scarifying thought: You are already full of (Carl Sagon voice) billions and billions of E. coli.

  • Carl||

    In a non state scenario individuals and corporations have a choice not to participate in the framework. That's the primary difference. I think the FDA should be abolished. I also think that I would participate in a market based regulatory framework. Some other person may not. It doesn't bother me either way. I do have a problem when Amish baker x can't sell to willing buyer y because of state, local and sometimes federal health regulations. Persons x & y shouldn't be coerced into participating in that system, which is what happens.

    I'm not against systems I'm against state coercion in what should be entirely private matters.

  • ||

    You are already full of (Carl Sagon voice) billions and billions of E. coli.

    And because I'm a selfish bastard, I wash my hands quite often to reduce the odds of people freeloading off of any of mine...

  • ||

    Colorado is littered with the poisonous remains of mines where the owners made a killing and left the mines to kill...all kinds of things. The market regulation assumptions include the fallacy that people want to stay in business, not just make a killing! In today's world, or any past world, there will always be a certain number of people who want to cash in and get out...they don't have an interest in the consequences of their actions.

  • ||

    Christine brings up a good point.

    Currently, there is a rise in the number of fake drugs on the market...which can have deadly consequences. The producers of these products are not thinking long-term. They are looking of a fast buck.

    Now, of course, libertarianism supports prosecution of fraud... the question becomes "where do you draw the line between fraud and negligence?"

    How many companies are willing to ignore the long term consequences in favor of the quick buck? What is the best regulatory mechanism to address that? Is it private or public?

  • ||


    "for a fast buck"

  • ||

    In a non state scenario individuals and corporations have a choice not to participate in the framework.

    Same with a government framework - if you don't wish to participate, move to another area without such a system.

  • ||


    "I'm against state coercion in what should be entirely private matters."

    You would get very little argument on that position...until you try and determine which matters count as "entirely private" and which don't.

    In your bread exchange, when baker X decides to hide a poisonous substance (or neglect steps to prevent its occurence), not easily detected, and thereby reduce his costs (increasing profits in his sale to y), does the state have a role? Is the only sensible way for the state to get involved via y's lawsuit? And if y dies and can't sue, does the state have a role in preventing X from repeating the performance?

  • ||

    What Carl said.....

    Dave W.
    The personal opinion I gave is just that - not an attempt to solve the country's food issues. It's derived from my potentially not being able to buy milk and milk products (cheese, butter, yoghurt, sour cream etc.) , due to government regulation, from the nice folks at a farm about 20 mins away from where I live. This, unfortunately, will force me to buy milk from Big Milk.

    For the time being, I can enjoy their products via a "farmshare" arrangement, but by the end of summer that will likely not be the case due to the regulators that are aggressively making life very difficult for them. Not on sanitary or safety issues mind you, but on mysteriously losing forms they've filled out, or misplacing fees they've paid, which are used to try and shut them down.

    If I was a player in Big Milk, I'd push for the legislation that would shut these "wackos" down but I'd allow them to sell me their milk which I could process in my government approved denaturing device and resell to the public for a nice premium.

    As I mentioned, there are both positive and negative externalitites to regulation and subsidization, but for me, I'd just as soon the government left the farm I frequent alone. If I get sick, I'm not going to sue anyone...

  • Gary||

    I expect to see a lot of clumsy attempts from Krugman to link small-government advocacy with Bush's administration, until the elections have passed.

  • ||

    Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, keeps coming to mind. A shining example of the care for food safety shown by food manufacturers.

    Something to read before you rely on the polemical novel The Jungle as Real True History.

  • Robert||

    "Fortunately, my cats are special and they are worth it."

    Then why are you feeding them cat food?

  • ||

    The vast majority of food poisoning occurs because the consumer mishandles it. Stuff sits out too long at a Church picnic. The percentage of food that is bad to begin with is similar to the percentage we can inspect, both are infinitesmally small. I would be surprised if 1% is actually inspected. What he probably means is samples of 1%. The food industry is so competitive and the profit margins so low, no one can afford to have a reputation for bad stuff for very long.

  • ||

    " I think the FDA should be abolished."
    That's just really, really silly. You buy food and drugs all the time right? Do you look up the history of each company that you buy from, to make sure they have a solid, squeaky clean record of not poisioning people? And geuss what, even if you did, it only takes that one time of cutting corners (or just an unfortunate accident) to put out tainted food/drugs. Also, many companies farm out their manufacture and packaging and you might not be able to follow that trail. It's a little late (not to mention not efficient) to let the courts solve this AFTER thousands get sick or die. The FDA is out every day looking over food production so we don't have to, and because we simply cant(and often just the threat of them provides enough deterence effect to make folks improve on their own). I'd love to hear what market mechanism would protect you and literally thousands from getting sick and dying. This oughta be great...

  • Kevin Carson||


    I think regulation works the other way around with GM food. Agribusiness supports restrictions on commercial free speech (e.g., FDA labelling restrictions and food libel laws), along with "intellectual property" [sic] in GMOs, in order to protect GM food from full-blown market competition.

    Dan T.,

    The government is not just "all of us working together." Government is the executive committee of the rich and powerful. We don't have food and drug regulations because "we" wanted them. We have the regulations because industry wanted them, and industry lobbied for them, and used useful idiots like Upton Sinclair to put a "Progressive" veneer on it.

    The Meat Inspection Act was the work of the big meat packers. The big packers had already been covered for a couple of decades by mandatory inspections that applied only to packers engaged in the export trade. Only those producing purely for the domestic market, who were mostly small packers, were exempt from inspection. The big guys wanted to apply the same rules to the little guy and raise entry costs. It's all in The Triumph of Conservatism, by Gabriel Kolko.


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