“Dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted on three of four criminal charges early Saturday morning in a trial that drew national attention from supporters of the raw, unpasteurized milk movement.” Hershberger sold his products through what he characterized as a consumer buying club, but prosecutors charged that the set-up was too much like a retail store, with price stickers and a cash register; Wisconsin law bans the sale of raw milk products through a retail store. “‘This is as close to Prohibition as anything I have ever seen, but this time it’s milk and an Amish farmer, rather than liquor and gangsters,’ [defense attorney Glenn] Reynolds said.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; Ryan Ekvall, Reason]
Knock three times at the cheese-easy: “A yearlong sting operation involving a multitude of state and federal agencies brought to justice Wednesday a dangerous ring of raw dairy enthusiasts in California.” [C.J. Ciamarella, Daily Caller; Reason.tv]
Well, then, FDA, just don’t consume any of it (h/t), rather than conducting year-long stings on Amish farmers to keep others from doing so.
Dan Charles at NPR reports on how parts of the media joined in last month to hype a report by journalist Andrew Schneider in Food Safety News raising alarms about the safety and authenticity of honey. (Similarly: Maggie Koerth-Baker, BoingBoing). “It sounded so right, plenty of people decided that it just had to be true. … But then we decided to look into it a little more closely. We talked to honey companies, academic experts, and one of the world’s top honey laboratories in Germany. The closer we looked, the more misleading the story in Food Safety News seemed.”
My Cato colleague Sallie James was among the few to take a skeptical tone about the Schneider allegations when they first hit the press. And as NPR points out, Food Safety News is part of the sprawling new media empire of Bill Marler, the very media-savvy food poisoning lawyer whose Marler Clark law firm has done much to sway press discussion of many food safety issues. On a different topic, did Marler really say the other day that raw milk farmers should count themselves lucky they’re not put to death?
Surprisingly or otherwise, some big business groups like the Grocery Manufacturers of America have allied with consistent Big Government advocacy groups like the Consumer Federation of America and Center for Science in the Public Interest to push S. 510, the food safety bill pending before the Senate (which might win consideration in the lame-duck session). In a post at Cato at Liberty recently, I cited writer Barry Estabrook, an ardent critic of the food industry (“Politics of the Plate“), writing at The Atlantic, who says the bill could “make things worse”:
You needn’t go along completely with Estabrook’s dim view of industrialized agriculture to realize he’s right in one of his central contentions: “the proposed rules would disproportionately impose costs upon” small producers, including traditional, low-tech and organic farmers and foodmakers selling to neighbors and local markets. Even those with flawless safety records or selling low-risk types of foodstuff could be capsized by new paperwork and regulatory burdens that larger operations will be able to absorb as a cost of doing business.
It’s true that S. 510 includes language not in earlier drafts that nods toward the idea of tiering regulatory burdens. But as the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance notes (background), most of the small-producer-friendly changes are left to FDA discretion, so it really depends on how much you trust that process. Note also these comments (background) by Peter Kennedy for the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, which focuses primarily on defending raw milk, and in particular Kennedy’s discussion (as things that may be particularly burdensome to small entities) of HARPC (“hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls”), traceability, penalties, expansion of federal jurisdiction, and produce standards, as well as the terms of S. 3767, the “Food Safety Accountability Act of 2010,” a new measure introduced by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. On the “pro” side, here is an advocacy sheet (anonymous on its face, but attributed in some quarters to Senate staffers) defending the measure as fair to small farmers (& welcome Professor Bainbridge readers).