"If government isn't checking your food for safety, who will?" ask Alice Guilhamon and Chris Dickey in a Daily Beast article about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's seizing of mimolette, an imported French "mite-rind" cheese that is covering with microscopic critters that are introduced by the cheesemakers to create a particular effect. Mite-rind cheeses have been around for centuries and include many artisanal cheddars and such famous fromages as Stilton.
As Reason reported back in June, the FDA claims that mimolette's rind contains too many mites and is holding the latest shipment of the cheese hostage somewhere in New Jersey. True to bureaucratic form, the FDA won't give a clear answer as how many mites are too many, or what the French exporter or American importer can do to spring the product in dispute. Safety first, kids!
At the Beast, Guilhamon and Dickey actually agree with Reason's take on the issue, but sniff at the idea that food sellers (and food buyers!) might regulate themselves absent public-sector food inspectors who…are currently keeping watch over a cheese for which they admit "there's no reason the public or the government should care. There's no record of a significant health threat – or any health threat – from mimolette."
But, but, but, insist Guilhamon and Dickey…
It's not really the connoisseurs in the United States who have been outraged by the de facto ban on mimolette—it's the libertarians….
If government isn't checking your food for safety, who will? Most people don't have the resources to measure the amount of bacteria in their hamburgers, or, for that matter, the time to count the mites on their mimolette.
Read their whole article, which name-checks Reason and our video (below) with Jill Erber, the rightly annoyed owner of two Northern Virginia cheese shops.
Two quick points: Is it really necessary to imply that libertarians can't be connoisseurs? Erber herself manages to be both.
More important, all sorts of groups would check your food for safety is the government didn't.
First and foremost, the people selling you food would do so for the simple reason that dead, sick, and unsatisfied customers have a way of really hurting profits.
Does anyone seriously think that federal, state, and local food inspectors are the only thing between us and certain death? As Reason's Ron Bailey noted back in 2006 during a media frenzy over a bagged-spinach scare, it's technology and market incentives that keep food fresh, not bureaucrats who refuse to explain their arbitrary regs. Bailey is, I rush to add, a farm-to-table journalist who grew up milking chickens and watering cows. No food-safety system will ever be perfect, but it's the free flow of information and customer outrage—not the remanding of cheese to some sort of FDA-run black site—that keeps us increasingly safe from food-borne pathogens.
The bigger the producer or purveyor gets the more intensely it will police whatever it's selling. For chrissakes, even Walmart—the stand-in for every negative trend ever and the nation's number one purveyor of organic veggies!—is implementing a balls-out "produce traceability initiative" to make customers feel so good about buying food (that's covered by a money-back guarantee even for perishable food!).
There's also the example of Whole Foods, which arguably gives you too much information about every goddamn lentil you buy off its shelves. Nobody forces Whole Foods to practically give you baby pictures and a family tree of the veal you're picking up. The company does that because its employees, shareholders, and customers think it's important.
As Guilhamon and Dickey's article suggests—remember, they agree that mimolette should be allowed to pass through Customs as easily as a French tourist on vacation—food inspection is one of those topics that clouds men's and women's minds. Yes, the food inspection process is flawed, over-the-top, misplaced, etc. Yes, the market provides ready examples of systems that go far beyond what the government provides in terms of information and seriousness. So, "If government isn't checking your food for safety, who will?"
What's French for WTF?
Watch Reason TV's "Cheese Lovers Fight Idiotic FDA Ban on Mimolette Cheese!":