Food safety bill: goodbye, artisanal cheese?

by Walter Olson on November 29, 2010

Even using the powers it has on the books now, according to one expert, the Food and Drug Administration could largely shut down the making of artisanal farmhouse cheese if it chose. This week the Senate will consider the Food Safety Modernization Act, which will put much more power in the agency’s hands and greatly ramp up regulatory and paperwork requirements for producers, though (in a welcome improvement) the new Senate version of the legislation does at least nod more toward the principle of “tiering” burdens for smaller local producers. Meanwhile, some press outlets continue to pretend that the only real debate is between do-nothing lawmakers who don’t care whether Americans die of food poisoning, and more interventionist lawmakers who are trying to keep that from happening. I’ve got a fuller report on the politics of the food bill — and of the lame duck Congress more generally — at Cato at Liberty.

More: Bill advances toward expected Senate floor vote Tuesday [WaPo]. The Daily Caller reports on continuing small-farmer concerns, and recalls a raw-milk raid; David Frum wonders about elitism and its taint; Michelle Malkin questions the lame-duck railroad (& thanks to both of the last two for kind links).

{ 4 comments }

1 rxc 11.29.10 at 7:34 am

Here in France, the artisanale cheese is everywhere, with at least 5 producers in my weekly market. Right next to the lady who sells “lait cru” (raw milk) at a price that is less than what the supermarkets charge for pasteurized milk – they say the big producers only pay them 0.30 euros/l, while the supermarkets charge 1.10/liter. She charges 1.00 for lait cru, which tastes much better than UHT. And then there are the producers of baked goods (not made in a sterile commercial kitchen), home-packed jams, sausages and meat, and LOTS of fruits and veggies that do not have any quality control programs attached to them.

Although I am here in France for food like this, I saw an article in the NYT last week about an artisanale producer in the US who had been inspected, and they found listeria in her cremerie, and wanted her to recall all her cheese. She has refused, and now the entire weight of the US regulatory apparatus is about to descend on her. Having worked for a (different) US regulatory agency in my past, I feel for her.

But then this is all caused when we get all sorts of hand-wringing and wailing and calls for more laws “to make sure these things never happen again” whenever an outbreak of food poisoning breaks out, and there are all sorts of organizations that seem to be determined to force us to eat only boiled gruel, because it is safe, and good for us, and good for the planet. I think these same organzations also support locally produced food, and small family farms, and the sort of producer like the lady above, who cannot afford to pay for QA departments, and accountants, and IT systems to track each individual drop of milk or lump of cheese. I don’t know how they expect to be able to feed us all. But since they are all good green folks, maybe they figure that they will make food so expensive that more people will starve, and the planet’s population will drop. Or at least we will all get skinny again, just like we were back during the depression.

No one has figured out how to deal with the risk that is attendant to living a normal life, without the politicians mis-using it to their advantage. I think I will stay here in France for a while – the EUcrats in Brussels who come up with our food safety regulations here are not quite as crazy as US congresspersons – yet.

2 John Burgess 11.29.10 at 2:31 pm

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do think there are some real public health issues when it comes to raw milk and its products. It’s one thing to eschew BHT and some antibiotics in your milk production. But avoiding vaccinating a herd against a variety of lethal-to-humans diseases is a different matter. We’re already looking at antibiotic-immune strains of TB, so do we need to spread them just a little faster? How about Brucellosis? Nature’s own abortificant!

I’d prefer to know that consuming a dairy product did not carry with it the same level of risk as eating fugu. If I want the fugu-level risk, I know where to find it. Or, I can find my own risky-though-natural foodstuffs. I don’t see a need to have them on a grocery shelf.

Guarantee that the herds are vaccinated, and I don’t care whether the dairy product is from raw or Pasteurized milk.

3 Name: Mark 12.01.10 at 12:36 am

The problem I have with the FDA is that its one big organization that’s in charge of regulating a hell of a lot of things, which is bad for them and bad for the people its built to protect; higher potential for foul-ups, in my opinion.
In Canada (I’m doing this research on-the-fly, so bear with me) we have separate departments for everything, it seems. Food is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, drugs and dangerous product recalls by Health Canada, etc.

4 DensityDuck 12.01.10 at 12:16 pm

Ha. The handmade-toy and -children’s product industry has been dealing with this for a long time now (see the CPSIA).

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