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  • No Appetite for Rotten Food Regulations

    Legislation to vastly expand the regulatory powers of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to advance in the Senate last week as proponents had expected. A vote may be rescheduled when Congress reconvenes after the Thanksgiving recess. But if lawmakers are truly vested in optimizing food safety, they will look beyond bureaucratic tinkering and instead eliminate obstacles to innovations in food science as well as market competition. Americans are certainly hungry for more rational policy.

    Spanning some150 pages, the Food Safety Modernization Act would authorize the FDA to dictate how farmers grow fruits and vegetables, including rules governing soil, water, hygiene, packing, temperatures, and even what animals may roam which fields and when. It would also increase inspections of food “facilities” and tax them to do so. And, fulfilling the dream of a long line of agency officials, the bill grants the FDA unilateral authority to order recalls.Expanding the agency’s regulatory reach would involve additional spending of $1.4 billion between 2011 and 2015, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The costs to the private sector have not been calculated but would likely reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

    The House approved a companion bill in July 2009. But progress on the Senate bill recently sputtered after advocates of small farms and “local” food producers balked at the regulatory costs—for requirements such as periodic hazard analyses, preventive controls, and voluminous record-keeping—that they claim could wipe out the sector.

    The other obstacle to Senate passage last week was the filing of two amendments by Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK): the first to place a moratorium on “earmarks,” and the second a substitute for the Food Safety Modernization Act.

    To the rescue came Senator Jon Tester (D–MT), who proposed an exemption based on farm revenues and local sales radius. After a bit of infighting among the small farm lobbyists, an agreement has reportedly been reached with Senate leadership to exempt farmers who generate less than $500,000 a year in revenue and sell directly to consumers, restaurants, or grocery stores within 275 miles of their farms. However, the United Fresh Produce Association and some 20 other agriculture groups that previously backed the legislation have objected to the exemption and may pull their support.

    It’s entirely understandable that small farmers and food producers would want to avoid greater regulatory costs and government encroachment. In reality, there’s no rationale for imposing the regulations on any food facility of any size. The incident rates of food-borne illness have actually been declining for more than a decade, in spite of higher consumption of the raw foods that are most often associated with outbreaks of food-borne illness.

    Nor will meaningful improvements in food safety come from intermittent visits by regulators or their scrutiny of farmers’ paperwork. History has repeatedly shown that science and technology have delivered the greatest advances in food safety. Pasteurization, water disinfection, and retort canning, for example, freed consumers from food transmission of botulism, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and cholera. And it was the food industry, not regulators, that first standardized quality grading and pathogen elimination processes. More recently, irradiation and bioengineering have also helped to destroy pathogens and extend product shelf-life. Were it not for alarmist opposition to both, consumer acceptance would likely be greater—bringing with it broader health benefits.

    Market forces such as competition, brand-name value, monitoring by financial markets and insurers, and common law are also powerful drivers of food safety. There are bad actors in every pursuit, of course, but considering the sheer size of the market, Americans enjoy a remarkably safe food system.

    The legislation also fails to address one of the most problematic aspects of current food regulation: the dizzying overlap between the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture—both of which oversee thousands of domestic food-processing facilities. And to exacerbate matters, the Senate bill requires the Environmental Protection Agency to “participate” in food safety activities—a provision that most assuredly won’t improve regulatory efficiency.

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) is intending to call a vote on the measure after Congress returns from the Thanksgiving recess. But there is no food safety crisis. Unfortunately, though, the threat of costly and unwarranted regulation only continues to climb.

    Posted in Economics [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to No Appetite for Rotten Food Regulations

    1. EJJ says:

      Instead of taking an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" approach, it sounds like the Obama Administration and the democrats meddling with our lives again with an "if ain't broke, fix it until it is" approach. Where is the overwhelming evidence that the Food Safety Modernization Act is desperately needed for our society? There is none…this is simply another power grab designed to create new dependencies on the liberal machine & funnel money to unions and left wing groups.

    2. Bobbie says:

      # 1 priority of the FDA is to make sure we''re not being poisoned.

      With the skills of the American farmers and the increase of the skills of immigrant farmers and the intelligence thereof, the government regulations are means to control. How dare government condescend the intelligence of a free people.

      Remember, government can poison without accountability.

    3. Bobbie says:

      # 1 priority of the FDA is to make sure we''re not being poisoned.

      With the skills of the American farmers and the increase of the skills of immigrant farmers and the intelligence thereof, these further government regulations are means to control. How dare government fda condescend the intelligence of a free people, imposing needless regulations.

      Remember, government can poison without accountability or neglect necessary safety standards….

    4. Mark, Franklinville, says:

      This bill shows the blatant attempt at govt to increase its control on the population. If it is able to control the food supply what more does it need? It also shows the two-faced side of Sen Gillibrand as she campaigned to be a friend of farmers in NY. This will put many of us small farmers out of business as we will not be able to afford to keep up with the regulations. United Fresh Produce and the other 20 ag associations are the big guys who will not have a problem adhering to this mess of controls. They have deep pockets and can implement much of what is called for and later pass the cost on to the customer. I can't compete with their deep pockets.

    5. Tom, Okinawa, Japan says:

      This is a plan of the United Fresh Produce and the other big farm associations to get rid of the small independent farmer. More profits for the big guys.

    6. rick,kiowa, kansas says:

      As a small meat packer and sausage manufacturer I can tell you the industry is over burdened by regulatory requirements. There are different variations and interpetations by each member of the regulators. There is also personality involved, which has nothing to do with the regulations only with people given power and who choose to abuse it such as Evan Sumner a FSIS employee as well as some lay people in the agency such as Brady Hampton. Until the agency explains to these nuts that we to are the people they work for it can't get better. Only in the U.S. is there a government that is bent on saving us all to death.

    7. Ross writes from Bra says:

      -In the 1930's, Stalin created the famine in the state of Georgia which killed millions by starvation. Georgia was the food basket of the USSR at the time.

      -In the 1930's, Roosevelt imposed intrusive regulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission for the allocation of land use by farmers conducting Intrastate commerce for their produce or product in their home state.

      -In the 1960's, LBJ closed down all small local operated slaughter and meat processing houses by imposing the requirement of a USDA inspector onsite, paid for by the S/M processor. The majority of the meat processed were animals of local farmers to be consumed by the family, not sold to the public. These processing houses were regulated by the state Agiculture, state Health Department and periodically inspected by the USDA for cleanliness. In my agicultural county, a half dozen or more such businesses cease to exist, throwning several dozen butchers and slaughter-house workers unemployment, before unemployment compensation. Thus began nine trillion plus dollars into the "Great Society" and further intrusion by the Federal Government into the Agriculture industry.

      The problem is that government "help" is unwanted, unwarranted, and has so far created a welfare class at all levels within the farming community. Next the Fed's will be wanting to dictate what a home gardener can grow on his own property for personal consumption.

      The federal government should be doing three missions for the soverns of the USA, (1) guard the shores and borders, (2) regulate interstate commerce BETWEEN states, and finally, (3) keep the hell out of my life.

    8. rick in kansas says:

      As long as the USDA_FSIS has employees like Evan Sumner and Brady Hampton in the Lawrence Kansas District you can bet that producers and packers will do any thing they can to avoid the idiots. As a small slaughter and processing facility I can atest to the Agency's, were going to save you to death or at least until we drive the small companies out of business.,What a country, the people who are supposed to protect us are the same one who are killing us..

    9. Greg B. Vail, AZ says:

      Food inspections are so redundant now it is ridiculous. I worked 30 years in a Creamery. We were subjected to inspections twice a year by not less than 5 departments. Federal, State, County, City, and Military. All of the last four based their criteria on the Feds (USDA). So, in effect, if you passed the Federal inspection, you passed the other four. The other four were just an excuse to give some jumped up official with a dairy science degree a job. Talk about a wast of taxpayer money on all levels!

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