Food Policy

Ringing Out What's Old—and Ringing In What's New—in Food Policy

Food policy cognoscenti discuss the top issues of 2015 and predict what might happen in 2016.


Credit: t-mizo / photo on flickr

Tis the season for lists. In my last column of 2014, I dug through my year of online Reason columns to find many had focused on issues like mandatory GMO labeling, food waste, the Farm Bill, soda taxes, alcohol deregulation, California's egg-crate law, a variety of food-related lawsuits, and the controversy over the USDA's misguided school lunch reforms.

Common column topics for me this year included food safety, federal dietary guidelines, alcohol regulations, food and beverage taxes, GMOs, the Supreme Court, and the spread of food freedom.

In that same column last year, I asked a handful of food-policy wonks to comment on what each saw as the year's top food story, and to predict what story might dominate in 2015. You can check out their responses here.

This year, I've asked the same questions of some of the same people—along with a couple new ones. Thanks to Pete Kennedy from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Walter Olson from the Cato Institute, Michele Simon from Eat Drink Politics, and Jeff Stier from the National Center for Public Policy Research for sharing their comments (unedited but for the addition of the occasional explanatory hyperlink) below.

Pete Kennedy

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

2015: A Tale of Two Levels of Government—at the federal level, an acceleration of the industrial food system's agenda through efforts to pass TPP, TTIP, the Dark Act, and the repeal of the COOL law; state level of government much more friendly to local food—Wyoming passes the Food Freedom Act, half a dozen states pass laws increasing access to raw milk. 

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

2016: More becoming weary of government attempts to protect people from themselves, stronger push to establish freedom of food choice as a fundamental right.

Walter Olson

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

The troubles at Chipotle (whose food I like and buy, despite its dumb anti-GMO stance) brought home two points: local and handmade and every other good thing bring real tradeoffs, and food hazards aren't just the result of moral laxity fixable by replacing "them" with educated idealists like "us." 

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

Next year I predict the momentum for "food policy" will visibly slow. While Mark Bittman may propose carding teenagers who try to buy a soda, voters loathe such ideas and politicians now know that. So keep the goal of eating well, drop the preachiness, paternalism and business-bashing.

Michele Simon

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

Without a doubt the uproar caused by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee considering sustainability, and the subsequent caving in to the meat industry by the Obama Administration.

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

Well, selfishly I would like to predict that the big plans I have for 2016 will take that honor.

Jeff Stier

1) What do you think was the top food-policy story in 2015?

2015 was a year of further polarization on food policy. Consider the fight over Dietary Guidelines, where Congress echoed questions about the "scientific integrity of the process" used to develop basic nutrition advice. The WHO's farcical declaration that processed meats are carcinogens further eroded confidence in "public health's" food advice. 

2) What do you anticipate might be a top food-policy story in 2016?

I'm afraid I've exhausted all my imagination for the year, so I don't have anything useful to add for 2016 predictions.


As for my own assessment of 2015, I think the well-earned defeat of California's foie gras ban in federal court in January 2015 may be the year's top story. While an important story in its own right, the court's decision could impact similarly unconstitutional laws in California and beyond—some of which are already being challenged—that govern everything from sharks to eggs to pigs. Honorable mentions for story of the year, in my opinion, include the publication of a pair of key, costly, and flaccid Food Safety Modernization Act rules, the excellent First Amendment food lawsuits I focused on in my column last week, and the aforementioned flawed federal dietary guidelines.

Looking ahead to 2016—and taking a cue from Michele Simon and her big plans for 2016—I'm happy to report that I recently finished writing my first book, which focuses on ways that some federal, state, and local laws promote unsustainable food practices, while others prevent people from engaging in more sustainable food practices. The book is expected to be published in fall 2016.

NEXT: Heroin for the Holidays

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  1. Does anybody else hate the buzzword “sustainable”?

    And why does nobody point out the the government is unsustainable at its current size?

    1. Ted S.|12.26.15 @ 9:19AM|#
      “Does anybody else hate the buzzword “sustainable”?”

      Especially since it is used to describe such un-sustainable practices as ‘organic farming’.

    2. And why does nobody point out the the government is unsustainable at its current size?

      Because the reality that government can only grow is too depressing.

    3. It is a BS buzzword. But next time you’re debating a proggie about something, try throwing that word out there, perhaps in reference to – as you said – the size of the current government, specifically the wealth redistribution programs. Other things that are unsustainable include but are not limited to: a minimum wage, rent control, and an 80% tax on “the rich”.

      1. I meant to add to that: it’s fun to watch them get all flustered since they find it hard to argue in favor of something that is unsustainable.

  2. Anyone who believes state-level government is more friendly towards local (or any) food is woefully ignorant of regulatory burden and impact. The “friendly” legislation examples cited are peripheral with minimal impact. Sweeping changes via FSMA, state/local health department regulation of restaurants (including mandated employee “training” rules, NSF-certifications, illness reporting regulations, HACCP guidelines), EPA-mandates that have filtered to the local level, etc. have increased costs of food production at both the food service establishment and food manufacturing level.

    “local and handmade, and every other good thing…” Nonsense – you are free to CHOOSE local/handmade, but suggesting they are intrinsically “good” is absurd.

  3. On the bigger picture, the “libertarian moment” is not a very good name, but I can’t suggest a better one. To me, it means the slight trend towards individualization, as in Uber vs taxis, food freedom at the small scale of individual farms, etc. The question is whether this decentralization trend can outpace the centralization trend of drone regulation, ObamaCare, executive orders, and so on.

    I am a long term optimist and short term pessimist. I see the decentralization trend since the printing press, literacy, and the spread of information as forcing governments to decentralize. I believe it will continue accelerating with the internet, as it did with railroads, the telegraph, telephone, radio, and TV. But big government isn’t going to just evaporate, and how technology can win is a mystery to me.

    1. I think markets in desired goods are inherently beyond a government’s ability to comprehend, let alone control it. Its first instinct at the loss of control will be to lash out and clampdown. Then end game is the collapse of these restrictions as the average joe’s weariness of the ever more draconian and expensive consequences. The inevitable failure of enforcement permits people to ignore prohibitions resulting in a widespread understanding that official warnings about the apocalyptic danger of defying official diktats bullshit. The official position on the subject goes from something accepted and endorse by the entirety of the respectable world to being seen as an embarrassment by all the right thinkers out there. This has been true of everything from Uber to Cannabis and it will be true of everything else. Eventually the only people left opposing freedom are people who are earn their living enforcing prohibition and cranks who get showcased by National review.– like this bozo.…..-interview

      But before this happens a lot of people usually have to die or get screwed.

      1. I think there is an alternative, in that bitcoin and direct payments will gradually increase in importance; the old-fashioned economy, such as houses and cars and fixed salary jobs, will contine at some absolute level, but decrease in relative importance. Think of life 100 years ago, when there was very little leisure time, very little travel, very little hobbyism (is that a word?). I think it entirely possible that this shift relative strengths of the old-fashioned economy and the new independent economy will eventually strangle the government. The government will continue to regulate ObamaCare, but home genetics and health care advances will make huge hospitals and doctor networks less important. Ubiquitous cameras will make physical crime an easily solved problem, eventually reducing it just as train robbery and highwaymen have vanished.

        The last 100 years of change have come about because people have vastly more money to spend on other-than-essentials; people who didn’t mind living as they did 100 years ago could probably get by on 10 hours a week instead of 40. The next 100 years will increase that trend. Imagine a world where no one really had to work more than a few hours a week, and all the rest went into leisure activities and independent side jobs.

        I waver between thinking this likely and thinking that something even better will diminish the importance of government.

        1. Broadly in agreement here. I think American society needs to learns how to vote with its feet more. i the realm of healthcare, there are many countries particularly in Asia where there are markets for healthcare that a uncorrupted by the deliberate government-crony capitalist cost inflation melange. Places like Japan and Hong Kong have state of the art hospitals and highly trained doctors These are countries were it is feasible to pay cash for elective procedures. Costs are published upfront and are orders of magnitude less than the US. Prescription drug costs are hundred if not thousands of times less than the US because no FDA keeping you so safe you die while trying to pay for meds. While waiting for technology to overturn the current order would be nice, there is stuff that can be done today. In the corporate realm, governments compete against each other to offer the best place to do business. Hence all the sweet heart deals, tax breaks and inversions to places where things are better. The sooner governments have to compete for individuals, the better. A lot of these problems exists because of learned helplessness.

          As for the crime thing lets not forget the explosion of private firearms ownership.

          1. “learned helplessness” is right about a lot of things. its INSANE that we’re having an argument about insurance covering birth control, even if you accept the idea that theres no way to avoid getting pregnant without birth control (if libido is so powerful that a woman has no conscious control over her sex life, im not sure rape should be considered a crime) that is so, so, so not what insurance is for. people seem to prefer just paying way too much upfront than actually having to make choices about how to spend money, which, to be fair, is obnoxious to have to worry about. i find our current healthcare mess more obnoxious, but that’s just me

        2. i agree with this. i think predicting a specific year is a little presumptuous (and i doubt, although im no expert at all, there’s gonna be one moment where robots become smarter than humans, it’s a gradient), but ray kurzweil’s singularity idea is absolutely right about technology accelerating itself. if you think about the world even a hundred years ago star trek in two hundred years really does not seem that far fetched at all. i think it’s cool how they had to restyle communicators in the most recent movies, cuz iphones are already much, much smaller and more powerful than the original original series ones. the one thing i am pretty sure of, however, is the future is not going to go in any way that we’re expecting

    2. I agreed with your long term assessment, but the move toward maximum individualization (whatever that will be), will get more difficult for two reasons. First, as Pareto observed, improvement gets more difficult as you get closer to your goal. Second. The collectivists will get more desperate and resist harder as lose ground.

  4. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

    1. Hint:
      If this is true, short Goggle.

  5. My Uncle Henry got a 2013 Mercedes SLS AMG Convertible from only workin part-time on a home compute==========================

  6. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

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