Thursday, December 02, 2010

Food satety bill

Not that this bill in the name of food safety isn't a down payment. The Food and Drug Administration will gain new powers over the 2.2 million farms and 28,000 food producers in America—including federal standards for agricultural practices and food processing, transportation and storage—as well as the authority to mandate nationwide recalls.

High-publicity outbreaks like salmonella in eggs or E. coli in spinach have obscured the reality that food-borne illnesses have fallen by nearly one-third over the last decade—largely because businesses have every incentive to police themselves. Meanwhile, Congress's increasing demands on the FDA—it regulates about 25 cents out of every dollar spent in the economy—mean that the agency does nothing well. When the FDA mistakenly fingered tomatoes as the source of 1,300 illnesses in 2008, the tomato industry suffered $100 million in losses. The real culprit was tainted jalapenos.

Not surprisingly, this bill's main critics have been the small farms and local and organic food outfits that don't have the profit margins to comply with new regulatory burdens like the "risk-based preventative controls" that the FDA will soon enforce. The House version applies even to farmers markets and roadside stands. Naturally, agribusiness and the processed food industry (and their legal departments) couldn't be happier, and it's not the first time big business has leveraged government to weigh down smaller competitors.
Government is granted additional powers as a reward for its previous failures while big corporations are handed a new ball and chain to place on the ankles of their smaller competitors. This is the reality of so much of our regulatory state.

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