July 2 2012

Do More Food Regulations Put Us at Risk?

Vicki E. Alger

Reason Foundation’s Baylen Linnekin makes a compelling argument that food safety regulations put us at risk rather than make us safer. This matters because recent legislation grants the FDA unprecedented powers over what we eat. As Linnekin explains:

 

Nearly 18 months after passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, a landmark piece of legislation that granted new powers and authority to the FDA, the legislation is still mired in congressional debates over how to fund it. If this status update sounds familliar, it's with good reason. The FSMA found itself in a similar place six months ago and a year ago.

 

But how does more food regulation make us less safe? Linnekin explains that first, a flawed food-safety regulation can prevent people from gaining access to a healthy food.

Second, the methods used by the USDA to inspect meat, for example, (prodding and sniffing for tainted portions) may have actually spread communicable diseases instead of preventing them.

Third, the USDA can give the public a false sense of safety when its inspection methods are flawed, which is what happened with a recent egg recall.

A core problem is mission creep—arguably a communicable disease in its own right affecting government bureaucracies. These entities have to justify their existence by expanding into areas never intended when they were originally created. The FDA, for example, was created to help prevent the spread of disease, referred to as old public health. New public health, on the other hand, micromanages what we should eat and how much.

Linnekin gives an excellent history of this development in his article “The Food-Safety Fallacy: More Regulation Doesn't Necessarily Make Food Safer.” Here’s the upshot:

 

The federal government does have a legitimate role to play in making our food safer. But preventing people from making choices to eat certain foods based on absurd notions of toxicity …; basing food inspection on pseudoscientific methodologies and requiring all foods to pass within that uniform (and uniformly) ridiculous system …; and attaching a false veneer of safety to certain foods based on their inspection status, are all thoroughly unhelpful, wasteful, and dishonest ways to ensure food safety.

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