At Reason, Baylen Linnekin asks me and several other people what key story we’re watching in the world of food policy. My answer:
The big, ominous, and still underpublicized story this year has been the Food and Drug Administration’s development of regulations to implement Congress’ panic-driven, ill-thought-out Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. “Local growers are discovering that proposed FDA regulations would curtail many common techniques, such as using house-made fertilizers and irrigating from creeks,” reported the L.A. Times in February. Another batch of new rules will curtail the age-old practice of feeding livestock on spent beer grains, to the dismay of many small brewers and farmers. … Too bad for small, local, distinctive, traditional variety in food and farming….
Read the whole thing — including my semi-defense of the FDA on the legalities of the matter — here.
So long, small-and-sustainable: critics say new Food and Drug Administration regulations implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act could render uneconomic the immemorial practice of using spent beer grains to feed livestock. Both farmers and brewers are upset. [Bangor Daily News/Lewiston, Me., Sun-Journal; proposed rule] More: Glenn Lammi, WLF.
Farms are not supposed to face OSHA regulation unless they have 10 employees, but the agency has tried to get around that rule by declaring that grain storage and handling facilities on farms aren’t really part of the farm. Now 43 Senators have signed a letter warning the agency to back off. [Future of Capitalism; another family farm labor controversy from last year]
When Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2011, some (I included) warned that it would lay serious regulatory burdens on small producers and distributors of food, threatening to drive many of them out of markets even when their products posed no actual material risk. Lawmakers gestured toward relief for small producers in an amendment, but apparently “gestured” is the operative word. “Now that those who will be regulated under the Act have had time to review and consider the FDA’s proposed FSMA rules, small farmers …are panicking. And with good reason.” [Baylen Linnekin, Reason, earlier; Daren Bakst, Heritage; "New federal regulations could threaten local farms," Michael Tabor and Nick Maravell, The Gazette (suburban Maryland)]
In one of the most powerfully felt scenes of his novel The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck indicts the private business system for engaging in a practice as foolish and wicked as the willful destruction of food crops while children went hungry. Did any of the novelist’s New Dealer friends inform him that it was in fact a deliberately planned element of FDR’s agriculture policy? [David Henderson; more from Henderson on John Kenneth Galbraith and the dire effects of FDR's policy on tenant sharecroppers]
In April, an extensive New York Times investigation by Sharon Lafreniere confirmed and extended what writers associated with the late Andrew Breitbart had been charging for more than two years: the so-called Pigford settlement, in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed to make payments to persons charging racial bias in agriculture programs, is riddled with fraud. If you thought this might stand in the way of a payday for plaintiff’s lawyers in the case, you’re wrong: U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman has just approved a payout of $90.8 million to the lawyers, over objections. That represents the maximum (7.4 percent) of what was being asked for: “The deal set out a fee range between 4.1 percent and 7.4 percent.” [BLT]
In Argentina, famed for agricultural bounty, government folly leads to shortages of wheat [Bloomberg; original Milton Friedman quote]
“Even though I was always on public property when I filmed the horrors I saw outside that slaughterhouse in February, I became the first person charged under one of these ‘ag-gag’ laws.” [Amy Meyer, Washington Post, Utah]
In its unanimous decision yesterday in Horne v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Supreme Court did not reach the merits of whether the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 worked an unconstitutional taking without compensation from the Horne family, who process as well as grow raisins in central California, by compelling them to participate in its scheme. But it did rule that the Ninth Circuit was wrong in disclaiming jurisdiction over the Hornes’ suit on the grounds that they should have paid an enormous fine first and then sued to get it back. In doing so, it rejected the position taken by the Obama administration in favor of that taken by (among others) a Cato Institute amicus brief. (More: Ilya Shapiro, Cato; Ilya Somin; Damon Root, Reason; more background, Lyle Denniston/SCOTUSBlog, Michael Doyle/McClatchy, The Economist, James Bovard, Ilya Shapiro)
After the Ninth Circuit takes a further look, it would surprise no one if the merits of the case wound up back at the Supreme Court. I touched on the merits in this earlier post:
Max Boot, who has written a new book on the history of guerrilla movements, tells how Shamil, firebrand leader of a celebrated 19th-century Muslim insurgency in Chechnya and Dagestan, began to lose the allegiance of “many ordinary villagers who balked at his demands for annual tax payments amounting to 12 percent of their harvest.” Instead, they switched their allegiance to the rival Russian czar, whose demands were more modest.
The USDA’s marketing order committee demanded that the Hornes hand over 47 percent of their raisins without compensation.
“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]
Even Brussels can get the message sometimes. The EU agriculture commissioner blamed public “misunderstanding.” [Telegraph via Alexander Cohen, Atlas Society; earlier] More: Kenneth Anderson.
Megan McArdle says the judge seems to have dreaded only Type A and not Type B error when it comes to compensating discriminated-against farmers, and quotes more from the great Times piece:
“It was the craziest thing I have ever seen,” one former high-ranking department official said. “We had applications for kids who were 4 or 5 years old. We had cases where every single member of the family applied.” The official added, “You couldn’t have designed it worse if you had tried.” …
Accusations of unfair treatment could be checked against department files if claimants had previously received loans. But four-fifths of successful claimants had never done so. For them, “there was no way to refute what they said,” said Sandy Grammer, a former program analyst from Indiana who reviewed claims for three years. “Basically, it was a rip-off of the American taxpayers.” …
In 16 ZIP codes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and North Carolina, the number of successful claimants exceeded the total number of farms operated by people of any race in 1997, the year the lawsuit was filed. Those applicants received nearly $100 million.
At Prawfsblawg, Paul Horwitz notes that legal scholars active in areas like reparations and discrimination law have up to now said little or nothing about the high quantum of fraud in the much-publicized Pigford settlements and asks (perhaps a bit rhetorically?) whether they will soon be taking note of the “public interest graft” revealed in the Times piece. And Hans Bader wonders whether the Obama administration might have avoided going down the embarrassing settlement route had it taken more seriously the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in Alexander v. Sandoval. More: Ted Frank, Point of Law; Daniel Foster, NRO. Joel Pollak: “Even the Kinko’s guy knows about Pigford.” Earlier here, etc.