A Philosopher's Blog

The War on Food

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 27, 2010
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Image by Marion Doss via Flickr

One of our Christmas gifts was a heightening of the terror alert level in anticipation of attacks during the busy travel season. While no Christmas attacks materialized (perhaps because of the crippling storms), we did have a new episode in the War on Food. 89 people in 15 states (and the District of Columbia) were victims of food borne salmonella. Fortunately, swift action was taken to deal with this problem.

While a food safety bill was recently passed, this most recent incident serves to underscore the need for even more reform in food safety. Now, if Al Qaeda had dropped the salmonella into the food supply, I suspect that the reaction from pundits and politicians would be rather interesting. However, it is an interesting fact that a failed attempt by an underwear bomber resulted in a multi-million dollar makeover of airport security while these sort of incidents generate relatively little change. Now, if government contractors stood to make millions protecting us from food based dangers and politicians could ride a wave pf food paranoia into office, then I would suspect much more would be done.

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69 Responses

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  1. jonolan said, on December 27, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Any legislation is a waste of Americans’ time, money, and effort. Nobody has the resources to deal with the real salmonella threat – vegetables, largely those from parts of CA where salmonella is endemic in the soil due to prior decades of piss-poor QA on animal-based fertilizers.

    It would cost billions in direct costs of clean-up and have whole areas of the country unable to produce for a decade or more.

    • kernunos said, on December 28, 2010 at 2:27 am

      Well said.

    • Asur said, on December 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      “Clean Up” and “Detection and Containment” strategies are not necessarily coextensive. For the reasons you point out, I imagine the latter to be the more pragmatic response.

      Just because one type of solution happens to be unworkable is not grounds to claim that no solution is workable…that’s just being sloppy.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 28, 2010 at 1:24 pm

      How broadly does “any” extend?

      You seem to be presenting a perfectionist fallacy: we cannot solve the problem completely, so any attempts to address it should not be attempted.

      • jonolan said, on December 29, 2010 at 4:47 pm

        How broad is any? Pretty damn broad when I’m speaking of federal regulations. Perhaps at the state level, some things might work though.

        It’s not perfectionist; it’s realizing that some things can’t be fixed once their broken if they’ve been allowed to be broken too long. The cost / harm of the fix is worse than the problem itself.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

          Well, by pretty damn broad would you mean that companies should be allowed to stuff anything in a can and sell it? Or be able to sell spoiled meat? Or sell contaminated food stuff? How broad is “pretty damn broad”?

  2. FRE said, on December 28, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    In Europe, some foods are irradiated with gamma rays to kill organisms which could cause food poisoning. The process is quick, inexpensive, and works well; we should consider doing it here in the U.S.

    It would be interesting to compare the number of people killed in terrorist attacks with the number of people killed by food poisoning. Doing so could help us make more rational decisions on how much to spend on each.

    • erik said, on December 28, 2010 at 7:54 pm

      When it comes to saving lives or saving money, there are so many angles to consider. Whose lives are we saving? Are they people we agree with? Are they inferior? Who benefits from the money we save? People we agree with? People who are inferior to us? Can we come up with a legitimate Constitutional argument to avoid spending money? Is there a legitimate Constitutional argument for saving the lives of our countrymen? And as jonolan points out, there’s the legislation issue. Will legislation perform perfectly, since it’s designed by imperfect men–even if their cause is just?Will each new piece of legislation on any issue merely march us closer to the unstoppable slide down the slippery slope?

      • FRE said, on December 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm

        Back in the 19th century, constitutional arguments were used to oppose action to save lives.

        For many years, people often died as the result of boiler explosions on river boats. Congress several times considered taking action to improve safety, but the argument against federal action was that it was not supported by the Constitution and would violate states’ rights. If I correctly recall, when the public became sufficiently fed up with the failure of Congress to take action, it was decided that the authority of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce also provided the authority to enact safety legislation to make river boats safer, so it was done.

        Although this may not seem directly related to food safety, it really is; the constitutional issue is the same. Because food is shipped across state lines, the federal government does have authority to enact legislation to improve food safety. And, most food IS shipped across state lines.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 29, 2010 at 3:41 pm

      Unfortunately, policy is often not set on a rational basis.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on December 28, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    Q: So how are small farmers supposed to deal with a thicket of new regulations?

    A: They won’t. They will just fold.

    Big business loves massive regulation because it thins the competition. It is the small guy who can’t deal with regulatory overhead.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 29, 2010 at 3:56 pm

      I didn’t call for a thicket of new regulations. I think that the basics could be covered by a fairly minimal set of rules regarding such things as keeping animal feces out of the food products and having basic inspections for contamination.

      However, I do share your concern that the agribusinesses will use this as an opportunity to get another edge over the remaining small farmers.

      Interestingly, just as their is a market for organic food, perhaps there is also a niche market for really clean food.

      • kernunos said, on December 29, 2010 at 6:24 pm

        “I think that the basics could be covered by a fairly minimal set of rules….” This is the problem with government regulations. I agree with your very rational statement but it is usually far more than a minimal set of rules when the government gets involved. As I have always stated government regulations should be laws set in place to protect both parties in a transaction but not too burdensome as to impeded that transaction. Unfortunately the government is very good at impeding.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 30, 2010 at 12:35 pm

          Rules tend to multiply and grow. In some cases, there are good reasons for this. Rules, as I see them, should be like clothing: enough to provide adequate protection/coverage but not so much that they become an actual impediment.

          • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 12:49 pm

            And, except for the “no rules” crowd and the “all rules” crowd, the point at which rules “become an actual impediment” is the most popular debatable issue. Another major issue, however, is determining whether, even if the rule is an impediment to some, it’s worth keeping and enforcing because of the benefits it provides. That issue is often lost in the simple but grungy argument over “too few rules, too many rules”. But in my opinion it’s the most important issue.

          • T. J. Babson said, on December 30, 2010 at 1:56 pm

            You guys have obviously never tried to work in such a heavily regulated environment where there are so many rules and regulations that you can’t find anyone who even knows the rules, and on top of that the rules are changing all the time so even if you can get a straight answer the rules have probably changed in the meantime.

            • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 2:47 pm

              The entrepreneur, the small businessman, enters that arena knowing what he’s facing. If he doesn’t, he’s a damn fool. On the plus side, he knows that if he fails he can declare bankruptcy and try again. To those of us on the outside, that seems somewhat unfair, but those are the rules.

              He knows there are going to be regulations because the PEOPLE, rightly, don’t believe all entrepreneurs and small businessmen have the PEOPLE’s best interest in mind when they produce a product, and the people, generally, aren’t that gung ho to sacrifice the lives and the health of themselves or their fellow citizens in the endless* process of winnowing out the businessmen who have their safety in mind from those who could give a shit about anything but profits.

              *I say endless, because there are always new, big swinging dicks who come into any market ready to make a buck no matter how many people they harm. The winnowing process is never ending. So, without rules and regs. or with too few rules and regs. there will always be citizens sacrificed to the free market:

              O, look! Over there is Uncle Jerry lying rotting in the doorway. He died so that his fellow man could see what a cheating pig Little Joe over at Lilttle Joe’s Dairy was. So that innocent people would no longer buy Little Joe’s milk and cheese. I hear that a fellow named Big Richard is buying the business. Who wants to be the first to test Big Dick’s unregulated product?

              The true free marketer is willing to make those human sacrifices. Usually as long as someone else is the victim.

            • kernunos said, on December 30, 2010 at 4:33 pm

              Trust me, I have.

            • WTP said, on December 30, 2010 at 5:16 pm

              As have I, kernunos. I have worked for small businesses, I watched my father run a small business, and I have a friends who run some now. I wouldn’t touch one myself. Regulations that often make no sense, and as you point out, T.J., keeping up with some rule changes can be quite a challenge for the smaller businesses. Some larger businesses, when they can quietly do so do, will use their legal departments to harass smaller businesses. Not much difference between the way some of the more shady enterprises work and the mafia. Except with the former they are using the law instead of a club.

              I don’t think anyone is advocating anarchy here, however it there is a reason that Thomas Jefferson observed that government is best that governs least. I don’t need seven fire alarms in my house and I don’t need a rope to protect me from straying into the deep end of my pool.

            • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

              Just so I’ve got this straight. Would my 12/30/2010 2:47 be considered “trolling”? Or is it opinion based on personal observation? A view from the other side of the bridge? Someone please pick out the fibs and the damn lies and point them out to me so I can mend my ways.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 31, 2010 at 11:55 am

              I’ve spent some time with the bureaucratic machines. However, this has mainly convinced me that what is needed is the right amount of rules-which is very often less. Quality also matters. A few good rules can do a far better job than many mediocre ones.

            • WTP said, on December 31, 2010 at 12:09 pm

              “Quality also matters. A few good rules can do a far better job than many mediocre ones.”

              Bingo, Mike. True in domains beyond government as well.

            • erik said, on December 31, 2010 at 12:41 pm

              And bippity, boppity, boo, we’re back to an issue I’ve raised relative to several subjects (most recently art) on this blog.

              Ultimately, SOMEONE has to decide what those “few good rules” are. And, surprisingly enough, as with choosing a good movie, a good pizza, an ideology that satisfies one’s needs, not everyone will agree.

              So who among us decides? Mike, do you think your choices of what rules to eliminate/add would be the same as WTP’s? Would the choices made by non-business entities be the same as those made by farming interests small and large? Will the large agribusinesses agree that the rules that small farms agree to are agreeable to them? Would anyone commit to stepping aside and allowing research to bear a very considerable weight in the formulation of regulations? Whose research? How are we going to reach what is indeed a level of near perfection: “A Few Good Rules”?

              1/No one in his right mind would argue that there are not too many regulations. That problem inevitably arises with a bureaucracy in a country the size of ours and as diverse as ours. This isn’t 1789. Our population is not 3 million. We’ve populated land west of the Mississippi.

              2/And no one should argue that there should be no regulations (though sometimes I think it’s in the dreams of some). That would be foolishly anarchic.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 2, 2011 at 12:21 pm

              Ideally, those with the greatest intelligence, wisdom and moral goodness would decide. Sadly, all we have is Congress.

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 31, 2010 at 1:14 pm

              “1/No one in his right mind would argue that there are not too many regulations.”

              And yet there are those who keep wanting to add more and more regulations without clearing away the regulatory underbrush.

            • erik said, on December 31, 2010 at 5:37 pm

              Are you saying that if a new and very effective method for controlling a certain problem should arise (Let’s say seatbelts, or laws against smoking in public places, or, hypothetically,a means of preventing the spread of e coli), that the government should avoid creating a new regulation requiring the use of that method until the “underbrush” is cleared away? I hope not. . .

              I think that in the third paragraph of my 12/31 12:41pm post * I made it pretty clear why the process of “clearing away the regulatory underbrush” would be very, very time-consuming and complex. And its main desired outcome, it would seem, is to prevent additional regulation no matter how beneficial that regulation may be, not to “clear the underbrush.” How much underbrush might have been cleared away during the 111th congress? Do you think the 112th congress will do any better even leading into a presidential race?** Conflicts would inevitably arise even if the life- saving effectiveness of the law were 90% or higher. Some would reach for their pocketbooks, choosing to save a buck over a human life. The decision makers (of all parties, including Tea) will sit dickering about money , time or some abstruse constitutional issue that they and only they understand because they’ve been channeling Jefferson or Washington or Adams or Paine. And no one gives a crap about the unknowns who die in the interim.

              But gov’t makes the rules. Not Mike. Or WTP. Or TJ . Or erik. The leaders have done it for over 200 years, and changing who’s doing it isn’t likely to change the big picture that much. Of course we have alternatives. Amending our governmental framework. . . No government at all. . .

              * None of the questions I raised in that third paragraph have been answered on this blog. But maybe that paragraph is what WTP calls trolling. . . :)

              **T.J. I doubt that that ever-changing rule environment you described in your 12/30 1:56 with the line “. . . on top of that the rules are changing all the time so even if you can get a straight answer the rules have probably changed in the meantime.” describes the 111th Congress where the food bill that’s the subject of this blog was debated and passed, or any other Congress for that matter. The 111th didn’t make rules so fast your head could spin. They could barely go potty.

  4. erik said, on December 28, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    A story you can accept as fact or not.
    The owner of a small local farm market that sells grass-fed beef, free-range chickens and organic veggies in season, also, until recently, worked for the state dept. of agriculture keeping tabs on adherence to safety regulations by small to medium-size farms and farm markets.

    Now, as a small businessman, he bitches and kvetches about the fees he must pay to have his refrigerators and freezers inspected so that they meet state regs. You’d (correct that, I’D) think, that his prior experience would have proved to him the value of refrigeration equipment that keeps fresh and frozen meats and dairy products at safe temperatures and would help him understand the process and the costs involved.

    And I think he does. He bitches, but he pays the fees. And his business continues to thrive. He passes the load onto consumers who are willing to pay for the quality he and his wife provide. He also has the brains to know not only the legal consequences of ignoring regulations but the real-life, dangerous, life threatening consequences of ignoring food storage safety regulations.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2010 at 3:53 pm

      Big business and big government…BFF

      http://mises.org/daily/475

      The defenders of free markets are often viewed as apologists for big business. Regulation of business is seen as necessary to the welfare of the public to prevent exploitation by selfish business people. Such a view would be hard to square with reality, with history both recent and distant.

      In reality, business often welcomes regulation and openly lobbies for it. Business often doesn’t want a free market for its goods and services and would rather have a government it can use. Compared to the wilderness of a free market, government regulation represents a warm hearth. Compared with the relentless ever-changing demands of the buyers, the stability and monopoly offered by government regulation is a far more forgiving boss.

      As Murray Rothbard noted in condemning business-government partnerships, “We often fail to realize that the point of Big Government is precisely to set up such ‘partnerships,’ for the benefit of both government and business, or rather, of certain business firms and groups that happen to be in political favor.” The same can often be said of government regulation of business.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/09/big_business_loves_government.html

      The history books say that during the Progressive era, government trustbusters reined in business. Nonsense. Progressive “reforms” — railroad regulation, meat inspection, drug certification and the rest — were done at the behest of big companies that wanted competition managed. They knew regulation would burden smaller companies more than themselves. The strategy works.

      Regulation isn’t the only form of protection that big business gets from government. Companies with political clout get cash subsidies, low-interest loans, loan guarantees and barriers to cheap imports.

      Even foreign aid is a subsidy to big business because governments receiving the taxpayers’ money buy American exports. Fans of foreign aid say those exports are good for the economy because they create jobs. Don’t believe it. If the taxpayers had been able to keep the money, their spending would have created other jobs — probably more jobs.

      Most people don’t realize that Enron favored the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and wanted energy regulations beneficial to itself; Philip Morris favors tobacco regulation; Wal-Mart’s CEO came out for a higher minimum wage; and General Motors embraces tough clean-air rules. Why? Because, as Carney points out, big companies with lots of lawyers and accountants can make the regulations work for themselves, while smaller competitors are hampered.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 30, 2010 at 12:32 pm

        That is an alternative interpretation to the one I have generally seen. However, this is a factual matter so there has to be a correct answer as to whether the reforms where inflicted on or demanded by the companies (or some other option-no false dilemmas need apply),

  5. FRE said, on December 29, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    “We often fail to realize that the point of Big Government is precisely to set up such ‘partnerships,’ for the benefit of both government and business, or rather, of certain business firms and groups that happen to be in political favor.” The same can often be said of government regulation of business.

    I do not agree.

    Of course regulations can result in partnerships with government that work to the detriment of small businesses and the public; it’s happened. However, that is not supposed to be the purpose of regulations and it is something which must be guarded against.

    Experience indicates that unless the government enacts regulations to protect the public, we will have caveat emptor which few people who have experienced would want.

    • kernunos said, on December 29, 2010 at 6:30 pm

      “However, that is not supposed to be the purpose of regulations and it is something which must be guarded against.” All nicely said but is it guarded against?

      • FRE said, on December 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm

        Of course it is guarded against, but not always adequately.

        • erik said, on December 29, 2010 at 8:34 pm

          An argument you often hear from anti-regulation types is that the regulations aren’t perfect. They don’t always work. Sometimes they even work contrary to their own purposes! Why, Mon Dieu! Imperfect man strives for something better and comes up short (not all of the time, mind you, just some of the time) so imperfect man shouldn’t make the attempt. Right.

          These laws/regulations don’t achieve everything they’re designed to achieve.
          We have too many laws for this or that, yet, look, the problem isn’t solved! Well, this is the real world! Where perfection in complex matters is rarely if ever achieved.

          The choice isn’t too complex. It may not be either/ or, but it’s not complex. 1/Remove all food regulations and people Will die. Likely in numbers that are unacceptable to the larger part of society. On the right sidelines will be those who hesitate to regulate (more likely because of cost or some blind belief that, left to their own actions, producers, etc. will do the right thing) and on the left sidelines will be those who recognize humans as the flawed beings that they are and aren’t afraid to trade off some profits to save lives. 2/ Keep regulations as they are and hear complaints from one side that there are too many and from the other side that there are too few and from some who are shocked, I say, shocked, that regulations don’t always work or that people choose to follow the ones they agree with . . . 3/ Add regulations (some of which in light of new research and technology might actually make sense and save lives!) and hear shouts of fascism, socialism, slippery slope, Hitler, communism, etc. from a group that sometimes doesn’t know what the hell it’s shouting about. 4/ ETC.

          • FRE said, on December 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm

            Very good!!

            It’s quite true that regulations sometimes, or perhaps even usually, have unintended consequences or are insufficiently effective, in which case they have to be amended. And as you say, it’s better to have something somewhat less than perfect than something extremely less than perfect.

            The first U.S. anti-trust law, intended to deal with monopolies, was the Sherman Act, passed in 1890. When that did not produce the desired results, the Clayton Antitrust Act was passed in 1914. The Robinson–Patman Act was passed in 1936 when the Clayton act was found to be inadequate. Similarly, one should not expect food safety legislation to get it right on the first attempt; it could take years to get it right, and even then it would be imperfect but still be a considerable improvement over nothing.

        • kernunos said, on December 30, 2010 at 4:36 pm

          What is the mechanism that makes sure ‘it’ is guarded against?

  6. T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Here is the myth via erik of the people who need regulating: “The owner of a small local farm market that sells grass-fed beef, free-range chickens and organic veggies in season, also, until recently, worked for the state dept. of agriculture keeping tabs on adherence to safety regulations by small to medium-size farms and farm markets.”

    Here is the reality:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/255320/two-californias-victor-davis-hanson?page=2

    Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California regulations that stymie business — rigid zoning laws, strict building codes, constant inspections — but apparently none of that applies out here.

    It is almost as if the more California regulates, the more it does not regulate. Its public employees prefer to go after misdemeanors in the upscale areas to justify our expensive oversight industry, while ignoring the felonies in the downtrodden areas, which are becoming feral and beyond the ability of any inspector to do anything but feel irrelevant. But in the regulators’ defense, where would one get the money to redo an ad hoc trailer park with a spider web of illegal bare wires?

    ***********************
    We hear about the tough small-business regulations that have driven residents out of the state, at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 a week. But from my unscientific observations these past weeks, it seems rather easy to open a small business in California without any oversight at all, or at least what I might call a “counter business.” I counted eleven mobile hot-kitchen trucks that simply park by the side of the road, spread about some plastic chairs, pull down a tarp canopy, and, presto, become mini-restaurants. There are no “facilities” such as toilets or washrooms. But I do frequently see lard trails on the isolated roads I bike on, where trucks apparently have simply opened their draining tanks and sped on, leaving a slick of cooking fats and oils. Crows and ground squirrels love them; they can be seen from a distance mysteriously occupied in the middle of the road.

    At crossroads, peddlers in a counter-California economy sell almost anything. Here is what I noticed at an intersection on the west side last week: shovels, rakes, hoes, gas pumps, lawnmowers, edgers, blowers, jackets, gloves, and caps. The merchandise was all new. I doubt whether in high-tax California sales taxes or income taxes were paid on any of these stop-and-go transactions.

    • WTP said, on December 29, 2010 at 7:49 pm

      “It is almost as if the more California regulates, the more it does not regulate.”

      Another danger of excessive regulation. If the parties to the transaction being regulated do not buy into the regulatory rules themselves, the result is as you describe. There is a danger in legislating one’s self into anarchy.

      I have a pool. When the pool was built (along with the house) I was provided with a rope to separate the deep and shallow ends. It’s a standard pool. I have never seen anyone with this stupid rope strung across their pool. But some business got the government, probably with the help of some damn lawyer, to write a regulation requiring this idiocy which does nothing more than move 12-15 feet of rope, one pool at a time.

      My 2300 square foot home has a required seven (7) fire alarms. Three would be more than adequate. Three of these alarms are located, per regulations, in the section of the ceiling that is 12 feet high. No rational reason they couldn’t have been moved two feet into other rooms or hallways with eight foot ceilings. When these alarms fail, they frequently give off false alarms usually in the middle of the night, I am supposed to climb up a ladder to reset them. The probability of a bleary-eyed, half-awake me falling off the ladder and doing damage to myself is far greater than the probability of our being harmed in a fire. Needless to say, those three alarms are now disconnected.

      • erik said, on December 29, 2010 at 8:12 pm

        And there it is. Is it that the regulations aren’t necessary and/or don’t work OR that there will always be those who know better what the regulations SHOULD be and choose not to follow the existing regulations?

        Good example: The guy going 75 in a 65 mph zone. Zips by me and cuts sharply in front of me. He’s going 75, that is, until an unexpected traffic pattern change proves to him the hard way that the speed limit was set that way for a reason. He’s the guy in the car wrapped around a telephone pole. If it weren’t a law in my state, I wouldn’t stop to help him.

        • kernunos said, on December 30, 2010 at 4:37 pm

          So which law that he broke caused the problem?

          • erik said, on January 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm

            To continue the example: He was exceeding the speed limit by 10mph. I should have mentioned that I was obeying speed laws. Had he not been breaking laws, he wouldn’t have passed me. He would likely have been able to follow me as I safely negotiated the traffic pattern change. But he was an asshole (a generalization I base on his actions). And assholes are assholes. I hate helping assholes, even if the law in my state requires it.

            But assholes are a great source of humor.

            Cartoon:
            Proctologist wakes up in the middle of the night, sweating profusely. His wife is sitting beside him consoling him . Apparently he’s just recounted to her the grim details of a anightmare that has affected him deeply. The wife is patting his shoulder.
            In the caption the wife says consolingly: “Don’t worry dear. There’ll always be enough assholes.”

    • erik said, on December 29, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      The example I gave is true. I began with the statement “A story you can accept as fact or not.” Take it or leave it to fit your view of the world.

      • T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2010 at 8:42 pm

        I take it as true, but I would eat the food from that farm even if there were no regulations. Wouldn’t you?

        • erik said, on December 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm

          Sure, but that’s a silly question. It’s relatively/ actually very rare when a consumer has the opportunity to know the details of the source of the food he eats as well as I do in this instance. Most urbanites (and urban mice still outnumber country mice in this country) must assume the safety of the food they eat based on the regulations and inspections they know to be in effect.
          I sure as hell wouldn’t just eat anything from the local supermarket shelf without having reasonable reassurance that sensible regulations and inspections were in effect and being applied. Silly question: Would you?

          • T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm

            “I sure as hell wouldn’t just eat anything from the local supermarket shelf without having reasonable reassurance that sensible regulations and inspections were in effect and being applied. Silly question: Would you?”

            I would take the risk, just have people have been doing for thousands of years. I also know that in such a system the untrustworthy farmers and companies are quickly weeded out. The system would work better now given the internet. Ever hear of Angie’s List? Principle is the same.

            • FRE said, on December 29, 2010 at 10:39 pm

              “I also know that in such a system the untrustworthy farmers and companies are quickly weeded out.”

              Perhaps at one time they were. However, food now comes from widely scattered sources and if people start becoming sick from food poisoning, it isn’t always possible to find the source of the contaminated food. By the time “the untrustworthy farmers and companies are … weeded out,” thousands of people can become ill whereas in the days of yore, the source of the contaminated food would have been more obvious.

          • T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2010 at 10:34 pm

            We don’t need the government to do everything for us. There are other institutions/mechanisms out there.

            Let the government do a few things well. A free people can self-organize to solve other problems.

            • FRE said, on December 29, 2010 at 10:43 pm

              Yes, in some situations, that can work well. However, I, and probably others also, would be very interested in knowing exactly what other institutions/mechanisms there are which would protect us from, let’s say, contaminated ground beef when a hunk of ground beef comes from widely scattered sources.

            • erik said, on December 29, 2010 at 11:18 pm

              Indeed, “We don’t need the government to do everything for us.. There ARE other institutions/mechanisms out there.”

              Indeed. One of the most effective of those mechanisms is death. Once x, or x+? people die from a contaminated food source that may indeed solve the problem of that particular source. It also solves completely the worldly problems of the victims (but not those of their loved ones). It’s possible that adequate regulations and enforcement could prevent some or many of those deaths.

              One important question on my mind is whether the dead people should be you and your family members. I damn well don’t want them to be my loved ones.

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 29, 2010 at 11:51 pm

              In an unregulated environment, you would buy from a local farm.

              In the regulated environment, the big agribusinesses dominate and you have no idea where your food comes from.

              By pushing for more regulation, you are effectively putting the little guys out of business and making the food less safe. That is not the intent, but it is the consequence.

          • kernunos said, on December 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm

            I would eat it if I were hungry enough. Regulations would be at the back of my mind.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 31, 2010 at 11:59 am

              Sure, but if you were thirsty enough you’d probably consider drinking urine (or even Tab). What we would do in duress is hardly a good guide to what sort of regulations we should have in place.

            • magus71 said, on January 4, 2011 at 4:41 am

              I grew up with a large garden in my backyard. I had to weed the damn thing everyday. Almost all our vegetables came from that, not the store.

              Hardly distress. Strawman again, Mike.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm

              What straw man have I made this time?

  7. FRE said, on December 30, 2010 at 12:04 am

    “In an unregulated environment, you would buy from a local farm.”

    Really? Do you really expect someone living in an urban area, perhaps even in the middle of New York City, to travel to a farm for shopping? To me, that doesn’t sound very practical. It takes me only a few minutes to go 1.5 miles to a local supermarket to shop; I can’t imagine driving way out into the country and shopping at various farms to assemble the food items I need for a week.

    Even if I did shop at a (not very) local farm, I still couldn’t be certain that vegetable were not contaminated with e-coli.

    I also like things out of season. For example, where would I get oranges in January? That would really require a lot of traveling!

    In 1850, people were often able to ride a horse to a local farm for shopping, or grow food for themselves, but I very much doubt that we will ever return to such a situation.

    Are you really serious?

    • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 9:54 am

      FRE: Also, we currently live in a country of 300 million+. The population in 1789 was closer to 3 milllion. The physsical size of the the country was 1/3 or less than its current size. Oh. And we’ve progressed in many areas, including our ability to mass produce food to feed a reasonable portion of those 300 millilon. Our tastes and expectations have changed. I can, in my small town, walk to a Chinese restaurant, and an Italian restaurant and a, such as it is , French restaurant. Recent food establishment inspection signs hang on the walls of all of three.

      I suppose we could shrink back to a 1790’s America. Grover Nordquist would be reasonably pleased with the teensy-weensy role of the government. But, last time I looked out my window we’re a much larger country, at a different time*. Sorry, Grover, that’s life. More people, more towns, more local police forces, more mayors, more government. New “thangs”–like automobiles, requiring new “rules”. And different foods and methods of transporting them —and new rules governing the upkeep of the new “thangs”.

      *Yeah. I know I can’t see Russia from my back porch. But I can turn on the telly and get a general picture of the size of my world and the changes taking place out there. And the telly is regulated in so many ways. Oh, woe is me!

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 30, 2010 at 11:17 am

      FRE, you are being excessively literal.

      The point is (and has always been) that regulations tend to favor big business against small business. If the regulatory load is lightened it will help the local/small farms and hurt the large agribusinesses. Since the large companies are able to buy politicians, more regulations and fewer small farms we will get.

      Always beware of unintended consequences.

      • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 12:01 pm

        FRE will have his own take on this, I’m sure. But I can’t ignore the obvious hidden message in the statement “regulations tend to favor big business against small business.” There’s much to be said about what’s missing there. No mention whatsoever of the consumer/customer, of the human being. The consumer’s physical well being? Screw that. IF there’s any interest, it’s in the consumer’s pocketbook.

        As an unintended consequence, regulation may favor big vs. small business. I don’t care. Inadequately regulated small businesses can kill me with dangerous bacteria as easily as big businesses can. Let us not forget, one of the “unintended consequences”, if the “regulatory load is lightened”, may be that more people get ill or die because of tainted food and poor food handling practices.

        I’m certain how my faith balances out the issue of lives lost v. businesses failed.

        • FRE said, on December 30, 2010 at 3:55 pm

          But are small businesses really helpless when governments excessively regulate? They can organize, just as labor organized to avoid being helpless to deal with oppressive employers. Surely we would agree that the resulting labor organizations (labor unions) achieved considerable influence and effectively used that influence with governments as well as with employers.

          Before farms became so large, small farmers were organized and had considerable influence with the government. They were very successful in getting farm subsidies and price supports.

          Of course fears about excessive and unreasonable regulation are entirely rational; probably most of us could site examples of excessive and unreasonable regulation. But I do not believe that small businesses are helpless to deal with it.

          • T. J. Babson said, on December 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm

            Some commentary on the new food regulations. Think, guys…why would Monsanto spend millions lobbying for this if they would not benefit?

            http://biggovernment.com/sberry/2010/12/30/food-fight-will-the-federal-government-control-our-food/#more-209948

            The bill was supported by huge food companies like Campbell’s Soup and Cargill, and industrial seed companies like Monsanto, which spent millions of dollars lobbying for its passage. Large industrial seed companies are big producers of genetically modified seeds and, in recent years, have become increasingly threatened by the presence of small organic farms, farmers’ markets, and the local food movement which celebrates the benefits of heirloom and genetically true vegetables and fruits, as well as organic farming methods and fertilizers. For the latter, the direct farmer to consumer relationship is what matters, and the government will be in the way.

            According to Conko, industrial seed giants are wealthy enough to pay the huge costs associated with the more frequent inspections required by the new law. In addition, they already have in place much of the expensive record-keeping system that will now be required of smaller farms that could be forced out of business by costs of the new procedures.

            • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 6:50 pm

              In the Senate 13 Republican yeas and 2 not voting. About one-third of Republicans in the Senate went along with this “horrible, horrible” legislation. That’s a ton of bipartisanship.
              On skimming Conko’s article, I see the word “cost” come up way too often.

              From eatocracy.cnn.com:”The FDA would have the authority to issue direct recalls of foods that are suspected to be tainted, rather than relying on individual producers to voluntarily issue recalls.” Oh, damn that sounds Baaaaaaaaaaaaad! Sorry, I still don’t trust the individual producers, large or small to “voluntarily issue recalls”.

              “The Secretary of Health and Human Services would be required to create a food tracing system that would streamline the process of finding the source of contamination, should an outbreak occur.”

              ” Importers would be required to verify the safety of all imported foods to make sure it’s in accordance with U.S. food safety guidelines.” Sure they’ll lie. If they get caught, the free market will take care of’em, right?

              All of the above seem pretty significant to me . And yes, there may be those who flaunt these regulations. And yes, the government may be undermanned in their attempt to enforce these regulations. And yes, it’s going to cause more paperwork for all concerned. And yes, it’s going to .

              Here. This’ll give you some more reasons to hate the bill.

              http://ecocentric.blogs.time.com/2010/11/30/food-the-senate-passes-a-long-awaited-food-safety-reform-bill-but-the-problem-isnt-going-a/

              But it reaches conclusions I reached long ago in my life. Nothing is perfect. Often, at the time, the imperfect is much, much better than nothing at all. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And . . .even Republicans can vote sensibly on occasion. :)

            • FRE said, on December 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm

              The fact that Monsanto supports the bill is reason to look at it extra carefully, but it is insufficient reason to reject it out of hand. Other than that, I agree with part of your statement.

              Monsanto is even worse than you have indicated. It has attempted, by legal action, to force farmers that do not buy Monsanto seeds to buy them. Monsanto’s argument is that the patented genes from the genetically modified crops end up in pollen and pollinate the plants of the farmers that have not bought Monsanto seeds and that therefore those farmers are benefitting from the genes without paying for them.

              The above indicates that Monsanto is a very oppressive company that may do everything possible to benefit itself even to the detriment of others. That sort of predatory behavior is immoral and should not be permitted.

              Whether Monsanto can legally do that is questionable, but it would be very expensive for the wronged farmers to defend themselves against a company that is capable of spending millions of dollars on legal fees. It would seem that legislation should be enacted to end such abuses.

              This is only peripherally related to the thread; I hope that this is not considered hijacking.

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 30, 2010 at 11:24 pm

              This small farmer understands…

              http://www.newsleader.com/article/20101224/OPINION03/12240305

              Food safety bill does not make food safer

              When will hard news stories quit editorializing?
              Today’s front-page story about the food safety bill
              starts off: “The Senate on Sunday passed a sweeping
              bill to make food safer …” This is purely
              editorializing in a news story.

              Not only will this legislation make food more
              dangerous, it will hurt the antidote to safe food: l
              ocal, community-scaled food commerce. And Sen.
              Harry Reid’s assertion that the food safety system
              has not been updated in a century is a blatant
              untruth. The most recent update was in 2000 when
              the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system
              was instituted and promptly destroyed half of
              America’s mid-level and smaller abattoirs, the safest
              components of the food system.

              This new bill saddles domestic producers and
              processors with onerous paperwork while giving
              importers a free hand. It authorizes unwarranted
              inspections to verify “science-based” production
              models. Remember, FDA and USDA “science” is DDT,
              feeding chicken manure and dead chickens to cows,
              irradiation, cloning, trans-genetic manipulation,
              factory farming and high-fructose corn syrup.

              The only reason government regulators appear to
              not have authority is because the biggest
              perpetrators of unsafe food are large entities who
              curry favor with regulators and cut sweetheart deals.
              I guarantee if there is a whiff of a problem with a
              small outfit, the food police swoop down with their
              whole arsenal of guns and badges.

              Consumer advocates who think this will make food
              safer must realize that the pathogenicity and
              concentration of power in the food system is far
              worse today than it was in 1906 before food police
              even existed. This bill is part of Monsanto’s new
              agenda for a food inquisition, and many of us mid-
              level local producers and processors will end up on
              the rack as a result. This is not about food safety; it
              is about the road to hell paved with good
              intentions.

            • erik said, on December 31, 2010 at 10:34 am

              He’s got a point, but it’s wrapped in “Ah, yes. When WILL these hard news stories stop editoriallizing and leave the editorializing to us?” If you’re going to editorialize, try real hard to make it believable.”Consumer advocates who think this will make food
              safer must realize that the pathogenicity and
              concentration of power in the food system is far
              worse today than it was in 1906 before food police
              even existed.”

              Yes, please, take us back to those wonderful days of yesteryear. And prove to us that, without the “FOOD POLICE” (however inept and corruptible they may be. . .) without regulation, we’d be better off today than we are.
              The author bemoans the “concentration of power” that apparently has resulted from regulation. Exactly how would the “concentration of power” have been avoided without regulation? As I understand it, in an economy like ours, the large get larger and the small struggle to get larger. Happens with energy companies, auto companies, you name it. But innovation continues. And the best and strongest do, apparently, come out on top. That is the story, isn’t it?

              And what about increased “pathogenicity”? Did that occur because of regulation or despite regulation? Do we have a better chance of dealing with it with or without regulation? It would seem that with no regulation, pathogenicity would be totally out of control. . .whereas now attempts are being made to deal with it. Again, I don’t believe the producers will do anything but what makes them money and more money. The whole concept of self-reporting–now that’s a virulent idea that government has allowed for way too long.

              The small farm I referred to in an earlier piece: grass-fed beef, free- range chickens. That kind of farming, these days, is niche farming. And that has little to do with gov’r regs and much to do with producing food for a huge population where the food producing land, too much of it, is being used to produce grain for other purposes. And much to do with a population that chooses, too often, to spend more on entertainment and cigarettes and alcohol and convenience foods than on quality food that, by the nature of its production limitations, is more expensive.

              <<<<<<< 12/31/2010

              http://www.emaxhealth.com/1275/organic-beef-recall-affects-six-states-joins-vegetable-recall

              "The three products on the recall list are Nature’s Harvest products and have the establishment number “EST. 18895: along with a Pack Date of “10341” and “10350.”
              Do you think that, without regulation, this info would be available?

              First Class Foods, Inc. is a private (relatively) small $70 million) organic packer.

    • kernunos said, on December 30, 2010 at 4:43 pm

      “Even if I did shop at a (not very) local farm, I still couldn’t be certain that vegetable were not contaminated with e-coli.” Ooooo, that is very scary. By the way, are there enough regulations in place to make sure the fault of e-coli poisoning my not be from the person that buys the food and stores it in a faulty manner or does not eat the food in time? I know milk due dates are just a value based on averages from studies. Milk may spoil before or subsatntially after the date. I am smart enough to sniff and taste the milk myself though. My wife is funny though. She will not use milk if after the due date even if it smells and tastes fine. Then again her biggest irrational fears are moths and manta rays. What is wrong with a healthy fear of bears and sharks?

      • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm

        “By the way, are there enough regulations in place to make sure the fault of e-coli poisoning my not be from the person that buys the food and stores it in a faulty manner or does not eat the food in time?”

        First of all, let’s at least keep talking about placing the onus for following regulations on the potential rule breaker. You know. The people who dump toxic waste into the rivers. The clowns who drive 95 mph in a 50 mph zone. The food producers who would sell products that have been handled in frighteningly unsanitary conditions.

        There are no rules for getting inside an individual consumer’s head, and I don’t forsee that there ever will be, given the difficulty of determining the issue of intent in a court of law. So while your wife makes an interesting subject and will make a guest appearance in the analogy in the next paragraph, she’s really got nothing to do with this discussion.

        Let’s stick with the people who are likely to break real rules and regulations that actually exist. Beware. Here comes the analogy. Are there enough traffic laws in place to insure that you and your wife won’t be hit and squished by a drunk dump truck (say that three times quickly) driver? No. Are there enough to significantly reduce the chance that that will happen? Likely, yes.

        Are there enough to make sure it won’t happen? No. Of course not. There are people, who, as I pointed out to another poster, decide that regulations don’t work and they make a point not to follow them. Your truck driver may be such a man.Your wife might be imagining scary moths and zig when she should zag. No truck driver, drunk of sober, following the laws or breaking the laws, can account for someone like that.

      • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 5:57 pm

        “By the way, are there enough regulations in place to make sure the fault of e-coli poisoning my not be from the person that buys the food and stores it in a faulty manner or does not eat the food in time?”

        First of all, let’s at least keep talking about placing the onus for following regulations on the potential rule breaker. You know. The people who dump toxic waste into the rivers. The clowns who drive 95 mph in a 50 mph zone. The food producers who would sell products that have been handled in frighteningly unsanitary conditions.

        There are no rules for getting inside an individual consumer’s head, and I don’t forsee that there ever will be, given the difficulty of determining the issue of intent in a court of law. So while your wife makes an interesting subject for observation–at a distance–and will make a guest appearance in the analogy in the next paragraph, she’s really got nothing to do with this discussion.

        Let’s stick with the people who are likely to break real rules and regulations that actually exist. Beware. Here comes the analogy. Are there enough traffic laws in place to insure that you and your wife won’t be hit and squished by a drunk dump truck (say that three times quickly) driver? No. Are there enough to significantly reduce the chance that that will happen? Likely, yes.

        Are there enough to make sure it won’t happen? No. Of course not. There are people, who, as I pointed out to another poster, decide that regulations don’t work and they make a point not to follow them. Your truck driver may be such a man.Your wife might be imagining scary moths and zig when she should zag. No truck driver, drunk of sober, following the laws or breaking the laws, can account for someone like that. And of course, even worse things can happen. . . Since the answer to the question at the beginning of this paragraph is “No”, does that mean we have too many regulations? That regulations don’t work? That all regulations are necessary? Unnecessary? No. NO. No. And No.

        I’d love to see a discussion of regulations that concentrated on their purpose(s) and not on their cost(s).

  8. kernunos said, on December 30, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Should read ” ….fault of e-coli poisoning ‘might not be from farm but from’ the person that buys the food and stores it in a faulty manner or does not eat the food in time?”

    • erik said, on December 30, 2010 at 6:01 pm

      Replace my 12/30/2010 5:50 with my 12/30/2010 5:57. I’m not sure what bar or key or bar/key combo I hit, but I posted in the late composition phase.


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