Food Policy

Stricter Food Safety Regulations Mean Fewer Local Food Options

It's time for key local-food advocates to admit-loudly-that strict food-safety regulations are not the answer.

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Last week I appeared on a HuffPost Live segment that focused in part on an Obama administration proposal to merge the food-safety roles of the FDA and USDA into a single new agency—a topic I wrote about here last week—to be housed within the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS).

I appeared on the segment alongside fellow commentators Christopher Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America and Robert Brackett of the Institute for Food Safety and Health. CFA opposes the Obama administration's proposal, saying it doesn't go far enough. Instead, the group supports a bill now before Congress that would create an independent agency operating outside of the HHS umbrella. While IFSH doesn't appear to take a formal position on the Obama administration proposal, two of IFSH's three key constituents happen to be the food industry and the FDA itself.

After I expressed skepticism over the proposed reform on HuffPost Live in part because small, local food producers had been threatened by FDA rules the agency proposed under the Food Safety Modernization Act, and I feared a new agency would likely dream up further threats. But Brackett said he could care less if that was the case.

"Having a robust food safety system in place should apply to the large companies as well as to the small companies," said Brackett, who previously served in top regulatory positions with both the FDA and the nation's top grocery lobby.

Other noted food-safety advocates echo Brackett's position.

"I think everyone producing food–no exceptions–should be using science-based food safety procedures with testing," Marion Nestle told Food Safety News in 2009.

But small competitors typically can't comply with regulations written for large producers. That means big food producers get bigger, and smaller ones disappear. That consolidation is then used to justify the need for more stringent regulations, which leads to more consolidation, which leads to calls for stricter regulations. It's a death spiral that is crushing small, local food producers, as local-food advocates have lamented, sometimes in pleas to liberal allies.

While dueling food-safety advocates and local-food supporters are often found on the political left, I've described a similar disconnect over the years among those on the political right. As I've noted before, many Republicans are quick to suspend their purported devotion to the free market on any issue pertaining to farmers and subsidies. In fact, I've written, Republicans are typically the worst offenders when it comes to doling out farm subsidies to businesses in need of no handout.

That coziness between politicians and business is evident in the push for stricter food-safety regulations, too. That food-safety advocates whistle the same tune as large food producers on the issue of food safety is a fact many of those advocates don't like to acknowledge. In fact, when I noted this reality in a 2013 column on FSMA, two writers from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that evidences the phenomenon, took issue with my claims, protesting that a regulatory partnership between government, advocates, and big business was as rare as a Yeti sighting. (Hardly.)

If there are benefits to be gained from buying local food, more stringent food-safety regulations impede those benefits from being realized.

But where does this partnership between government, food-safety advocates, and big business leave the aforementioned "local food movement" championed by many others on the left—including leading thinkers like Michael Pollan?

Pollan may have thought he could have it all.

Back in 2010, Pollan lauded FSMA, saying "it promises to achieve several important food safety objectives, greatly benefiting consumers without harming small farmers or local food producers."

Clearly, that's not the case. But, according to his website, that was the last Pollan had to say on food safety and local food.

With FSMA's disastrous rollout, and the calls by peers like Nestle to strengthen it further, what can he say? Disconnect between staunch supporters of rigid, process-oriented food safety regulations and advocates for local food is palpable. Their goals are simply at loggerheads.

The Obama administration has tried to placate both sides. But—whether they care to admit it or not—the ongoing debate over increasing food-safety regulations and expanding local food options pits heavyweight food-policy experts like Nestle against peers like Pollan. Victory for the former would mean fewer small producers and fewer choices for consumers. I think it's incumbent on local food supporters like Pollan to argue that point.

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58 responses to “Stricter Food Safety Regulations Mean Fewer Local Food Options

  1. Probably 90% of any government regulation on business is conceived and crafted to help larger organizations squeeze out the smaller competition that cannot afford compliance.

    1. Oh, come on FoE, why so cynical? Don’t you believe that gubment always has our best interest at heart? They would never indulge in corporatism. For shame sir, for shame.

      Side note: Your handle would be an excellent name for a punk band.

      1. I thought FoE was rather generous with his implication that 10% of govt regulation is not in support of cronyism.

        1. I disagree. I think at least 20% of government regulation is a pure cash grab. Big, small, doesn’t matter.

          1. Yep. Part of my job is regulatory compliance for the facility. We are rated as a “gross polluter” by the state (more than 10K lbs emissions). The state simply demands 2X money for annual permits.

    2. campaigns do not contribute to themselves, you know.

      1. Actually I’m sure many do! It’s a way to launder $, among others. Commonly they contribute to each other’s campaign, such as buying tickets to each other’s fundraising affairs.

    3. Hmm, this doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, I would think that increasing overall costs to run a business and hire an employee would make it easier to run a small business. Next thing, you are going to tell me that I increasing the cost of health care is not going to reduce the cost of health insurance.

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    5. 10% is too little. Especially on the local level, those are just pure money grabs.

      Zoning agency: “your storefront must be retail only”

      Landowner: “what about office space?”

      ZA: “nope. Retail only or we fine you $500 a day.”

      L: “can I apply for a variance?”

      ZA: “no. This place is retail only pursuant to code section blah blah blah.”

      This happened to a friend of mine in San Francisco. There is no effective difference between the uses: they’re both commercial. It’s not like he wanted to put a furniture factory in there.

      There is, however, a difference to the city: retail means sales taxes while office space does not (even though it means there’ll be more workers in the area who will spend at other local stores…whatever).

  2. Christopher Waldrop of the Consumer Federation of America and Robert Brackett of the Institute for Food Safety and Health. CFA opposes the Obama administration’s proposal, saying it doesn’t go far enough.

    Any time you see the term “consumer advocate”, think “government advocate” and you’ll be much closer to what the person is really doing.

    1. You will consume as you are told to consume, consumer!

  3. I bet he liked deep dish, too:

    “Rick Perry’s Wrong About Lincoln

    “Honest Abe loved the federal government.

    “…In footage released by American Bridge, the progressive super PAC that seems always to know in advance when a Republican candidate is about to trip over himself, Perry told the party faithful that “Abraham Lincoln read the Constitution, and he also read the Bill of Rights, and he got down to the Tenth Amendment, and he liked it. That Tenth Amendment that talks about these states, these laboratories of democracy. ? The Tenth Amendment that the federal government is limited, its powers are limited by the Constitution.”…

    “Before he reluctantly became a Republican, Abraham Lincoln was a lifelong Whig?a party founded in opposition to Andrew Jackson and in support of a strong and active central state….

    “…Historians disagree whether the Civil War era catalyzed the emergence of the modern state, but few disagree that Lincoln broadly (if perhaps temporarily) expanded the purview of Washington, D.C.”

    http://www.politico.com/magazi…..z3RgBEBQBl

  4. Other than that, it was accurate:

    “But the big error in Collins’s piece is her claim that “those layoffs happened because Walker cut state aid to education.” As you can see in the excerpt above, Collins is talking about teacher layoffs that occurred in 2010. Walker did not become governor until 2011.”

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/…..52171.html

  5. Thank you for your suggestion, but we’ve already had a Valentine’s Day massacre.

    “Valentine’s Day Mass Shooting Plot Foiled in Nova Scotia, Canada…

    “[Police official Brian] Brennan said the exact motive for the planned killing was unclear but it was “not culturally based.”

    “”I wouldn’t characterize it as a terrorist event,” he told reporters according to CBC. “I would classify it as a group of individuals that had some beliefs and were willing to carry out violent acts against citizens but there’s nothing in the investigation to classify it as a terrorist attack or terrorist incident.””

    http://www.nbcnews.com/news/wo…..da-n306256

    1. “I would classify it as a group of individuals that had some beliefs and were willing to carry out violent acts against citizens but there’s nothing in the investigation to classify it as a terrorist attack…”

      Wow, that is one empty statement there. Why do they not give the names of these not-terrorists?

      1. Why do they not give the names of these not-terrorists?

        Well, in part, there is reason to believe that there might be more people who were involved in the plot.

        1. That’s a lot of non-terrorists.

          1. I suspect the only ideological goal behind the plot was to express anger that no one had yet told them there is a dating site geared specifically toward them.

            1. My initial reaction to the pictures in the slider was that just the girl’s picture was fake. But then I see names like “Biff” and “Skeet” combined with cheesy poses, and I wonder if they aren’t all fake. I find it hard to believe that a guy named “Biff” posing douchily with chest hair peeking out of his shirt has enough self-awareness to join an “ugly schmucks” dating site.

              1. Aw man, my slider contains neither a Biff nor a Skeet.

        2. I am reminded of a shooting that I only vaguely remember. Some guy shot up a mall in Las Vegas (?) a few years back. The cops and the administration swore they did not know the motive and did not give the guys name. They insisted it was not terrorism.

          Later it came out that the shooter’s name was middle eastern and he was shouting “allah akbar!” while he was on his rampage.

          I guess I have gotten to the point where I interpret everything the government says as the inverse of the truth.

          1. “I guess I have gotten to the point where I interpret everything the government says as the inverse of the truth.”

            This.

            Everytime I hear anyone say “Gov’t officials say…” I automatically assume it is a lie.

            1. Everytime I hear anyone say “Gov’t officials say…” I automatically assume it is a lie.

              Hey, that’s not fair. Every now and then they tell the truth … accidentally.

              1. And then get promptly dismissed from further govt employment.

                1. See that just proves it is possible for a government employee to be fired. And you thought they had a job for life.

          2. Being the inverse implies you could discern truth from what the government says. I think it’s more accurate to say it is connected to the truth by invisible thread, and all of those threads combined make up the emperor’s clothing.

  6. Hey! Don’t let facts disrupt the narrative.

  7. Wtf is so hard about commenting from a mobile device? Firefox and chrome both are buggy. You click the box to type, the keyboard comes up, but you’re typing to nowhere. Anyone else figure this out? Firefox used to work for me (only reason I downloaded it). I had to copy/paste this one. I’m on an LG G3 for crying out loud.

  8. pits heavyweight food-policy experts like Nestle against peers like Pollan

    It’s like forcing Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to face each other in a vale tudo deathmatch.

    You hope they both die.

    1. I would say, hope they both get bruises.

      I mean, death? Really?

      1. And Google Translate doesn’t give me a reliable translation of “tudo,” unless “ously” is a serious translation.

        1. Basically, “no-holds barred”.

      2. How about nerve damage that permanently deprives them of the ability to speak?

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  11. OT:
    What if they gave a talk and, uh….
    Obo draws APL CEO, no others. His pitch on ‘data sharing’ has the entire audience sitting on its hands:
    “Obama calls for collaboration in cyberthreat battle”
    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/…..080131.php

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    I should’a been there with a “Obama Go Home” sign….

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  13. Nice picture of a large, thick, fat cock. Alt-text fail!

    “I Have a Noble Cock”

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  15. I question the basic premise that we should support “local” food. Also, the FSMA regs don’t apply to very small food producers.

    CSPI is a key driver of increasing regulations, as evidenced most recently by their Salmonella adulteration petition. Additionally, food lefties love creating new laws, as long as they only apply to companies they don’t like. BL is no exception – I have yet to see a single food-related Reason article supporting “big” food companies.

    1. There are plenty of pro-GMO articles here on Reason, and most companies/farms that use GMO’s are the big players.

      1. Also the little companies need a little of the spotlight too. Competition keeps things fresh. =)

  16. Remember the good old days when Reason ran foreign policy articles on the weekends that everyone agreed upon? God, I miss those days.

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  24. If you know what I mean…wink-wink, nudge-nudge

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  26. absolutely amazing… is there no part of society that government doesn’t have its tentacles into.

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