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food safety

CoronaPitcherLemonsCalifornia legislature does something sensible! [L.A. Times; earlier on this regulation, widely protested by bartenders, sushi chefs and other food and drink professionals] Next headlines to come: blue moon, month of Sundays, and the unexpected freezing over of Hell.

WikimediaBeerCoasterDavid Gorski at Science-Based Medicine and Trevor Butterworth at Forbes take a dim view of Food Babe, “a young, telegenic, clever but scientifically ignorant blogger” who’s turned her campaign sights from Subway to beer makers.

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A year ago the Cato Institute interviewed Jill Erber, of Northern Virginia cheese shop Cheesetique, after the FDA decided to ban the traditional French cheese Mimolette. More on the FDA and cheese here, here, here, etc.

More: Baylen Linnekin at Reason on why the FDA hasn’t really backed off its latest on wooden shelving (“You dine at the pleasure of the FDA. Enjoy it while it lasts.”); also at Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown. And some of the reassurances we heard at the time about FSMA being no big deal are here and here.

Yes! Following an enormous outcry from cheese makers, commentators, and the general public, the agency beats a hasty retreat. Commentator/ Pepperdine lawprof Greg McNeil has the details at Forbes (and his earlier commentary on the legalities of the agency’s action is also informative). Earlier here.

In a classic bureaucratic move, the agency denied it had actually issued a new policy (technically true, if you accept the premise that a policy letter from its chief person in charge of cheese regulation is not the same as a formally adopted new policy) and left itself the discretion to adopt such a policy in future if it wishes (merely declaring itself open to persuasion that wood shelving might prove compatible with the FSMA).

McNeal:

This is also a lesson for people in other regulated industries. When government officials make pronouncements that don’t seem grounded in law or policy, and threaten your livelihood with an enforcement action, you must organize and fight back. While specialized industries may think that nobody cares, the fight over aged cheese proves that people’s voices can be heard…

There is a less optimistic version, however. It happens that a large number of editors, commentators, and others among the chattering classes are both personally interested in the availability of fine cheese and familiar enough with the process by which it is made to be un-cowed by claims of superior agency expertise. That might also be true of a few other issues here and there — cottage food sold at farmer’s markets, artisanal brewing practices — but it’s inevitably not going to be true of hundreds of other issues that arise under the new Food Safety Modernization Act. In a similar way, the outcry against CPSIA, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, rose to a politically effective level only on a selected few issues (publishers and libraries got a fix so that older children’s books would not have to be trashed; youth motorsports eventually obtained an exemption, and so forth) but large numbers of smaller children’s products and specialties whose makers had less of a political voice simply disappeared.

More: Andrew Coulson, Cato, and on the trade aspects, K. William Watson; Chuck Ross, Daily Caller (quoting me at length for which thanks). On the FDA’s new statement: “Typical bureaucratic doublespeak that seems meant to maximize uncertainty for the regulated community” [Eric Bott of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce] “This was the worst possible outcome. It reinforces elites’ view that regulators are reasonable and wise and will fix mistakes.” [@random_eddie] “Pay no attention to the Leviathan behind the cheesecloth” [Scott Lincicome, in an exchange after a writer at Slate observed that "Libertarians aren't the only ones" who might want to keep board-aged cheese legal] (Vox, Reason, Carly Ledbetter/HuffPo; & welcome Instapundit, Alexander Cohen/Atlas Society, Q and O readers)

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We warned at the time that the ill-conceived Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 would tend to choke off many non-industrial food sources. Now the FDA, interpreting FSMA as part of its regulatory process, is moving to ban the aging of cheese on wooden boards, a process that dates back thousands of years and has been practiced safely by many of the world’s finest cheese makers. The agency apparently intends to apply the same standard to imported cheese as well, which means that in addition to devastating artisanal cheese producers in this country, the move would cut off Americans’ access to large numbers of classic European cheeses, many of which, like Comte and Reblochon, “are required to be aged on wood by their standard of identity.” [Jeanne Carpenter, Cheese Underground (Wisconsin); Matt Spiegler, Cheese Notes]

Our coverage of FSMA, including its many-sided impact on traditional and artisanal farm and food practice, is here.

More: “Old guy in the cell: What are you in for? New guy in the cell: I aged cheese on wooden boards.” [Scott Greenfield] Plus: William Watson, Cato; Greg McNeal, Forbes, on the legalities including an apparent shift in the FDA’s earlier stance approving wood board aging]

Update June 11: agency backs down.

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Last fall the editors of the Vermont Law Review were kind enough to invite me to participate in a discussion on food and product labeling, part of a day-long conference “The Disclosure Debates” with panels on environmental, financial, and campaign disclosure. Other panelists included Christine DeLorme of the Federal Trade Commission, Division of Advertising Practices; Brian Dunkiel, Dunkiel Saunders; George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety; and David Zuckerman, Vermont State Senator and Farmer, Full Moon Farm.

Aside from my own segment above, you can find links to the other segments here. Plus: Environmental Health (VLS) summary of above panel.

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Mark Steyn revisits the subject of Kinder Surprise eggs, the chocolate-wrapped toys popular in much of the rest of the world but forbidden under a distinctive U.S. law which bans the “embedding of non-nutritive items” in confectionery. According to the Department of Homeland Security, border agents confiscated more than 25,000 of the prohibited treats in more than 2,000 seizures during one recent year. Earlier here (Steyn: “The real choking hazard is the vise-like grip of government”), here, etc.

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It’s best known as a marketing tactic in the technology business, but it works more widely too, notes Julie Gunlock in her new book From Cupcakes To Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How To Fight Back (Independent Women’s Forum). From Angela Logomasini’s review:

In the world of politics, the tactic has also become a proven strategy for alarmists, such as the “food nannies, health, environmental, anti-chemical activists,” whose fear mongering leads politicians to the conclusion that “something must be done,” Mrs. Gunlock observes. Usually that something involves regulation that comes at the expense of consumer freedom.

KingCakeWarning

Photo via David Boaz. We’ve been covering the Mardi Gras King-cake-figurine-liability issue at Overlawyered for years.

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Bill Marler, the ubiquitous food-poisoning lawyer, argues that in undertaking to “audit” food distributors’ safety practices, the Santa Maria, Calif.-based firm assumes legal duties that extend to the general public at risk for foodborne illness. [Lora Abcarian, Produce News]

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Farm and food roundup

by Walter Olson on February 18, 2014

More than a thousand local businesses have sprung up following California’s legalization of at-home foodmaking for sale. One of them is Mark Stambler’s reopened Pagnol Boulanger, which authorities had raided and shut down the day after the Los Angeles Times profiled its French bread. [Nick Sibilla, Forbes] Effort underway to expand cottage food law in Virginia [Baylen Linnekin]

Chefs “hate” the idea of using gloves or tongs on everything, says the L.A. Times, and the epic volume of plastic disposables that will have to be run through daily will make a bad joke out of the bag bans popular in the state, but the legislature was unswayed:

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that made changes to the California Retail Food Code in an effort to curtail foodborne illnesses, and those changes include a law that says “food employees shall not contact exposed, ready-to-eat food with their bare hands.”

That means cooks must wear single-use gloves or use utensils when handling food such as sushi, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables and any cooked components of dishes that will be plated for customers.

Some opinions from Twitter:

P.S. Cookery writer Michael Ruhlman has more to say here (“at any busy restaurant, my experience has been that the cooks’ hands are the cleanest in the place. You’re more likely to pick up germs from the waiter’s hand that sets your plate before you — but you don’t hear the legislators clamoring for this.”)

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on December 31, 2013

  • Gee, thanks, NIH: “Taxpayer-Funded Propaganda to Show the ‘Evils’ of Private Alcohol Sales” [Michelle Minton, CEI]
  • “So this summer, under the supervision of officials from U.S. Customs, all three thousand two hundred and ninety-seven pounds of Mimolette were tossed into dumpsters and doused in bleach.” [The New Yorker, Dec. 9, subscription; S.F. Chronicle, earlier on French cheese controversy here, here, etc.]
  • FDA forced to back off FSMA regs, NYC soda ban loses twice in court, and other highlights of the year in food freedom [Baylen Linnekin] “Americans Think They Should Be Allowed to Buy Foods with Trans Fats and Caffeinated Energy Drinks” [Emily Ekins on new Reason-RUPE poll] “The Dangers of a Soda Tax” [Trevor Burrus] Linnekin podcast on FDA’s trans-fat ban [Cato, Caleb Brown interview]
  • “Annals of Closing Statements in Exploding Bottle Cases” [Kyle Graham]
  • “Minnesota says raw milk makes more people sick than recognized” [L.A. Times]
  • It’s for the children: proposals for regulating in-store food marketing [Jennifer Pomeranz via Public Citizen]
  • Federal sugar program devastated domestic candy manufacturing, as WaPo (sometimes) recognizes [Chris Edwards]

Too hot to handle

by Walter Olson on December 23, 2013

Will California drive manufacturing of sriracha to Texas? [Steven Greenhut, Aaron Renn, Baylen Linnekin]

Two of my enduring interests — excessive government regulation and the quest for truly scrumptious cinnamon buns — intersect here in a single story from Denmark. [Guardian]:

…scientists have now discovered that too much of the most commonly used type of cinnamon, cassia, can cause liver damage thanks to high levels of coumarin, a natural ingredient found in the spice.

The EU has accordingly decreed that coumarin levels must be kept below 50 mg per kg in “traditional” or “seasonal” foodstuffs eaten only occasionally, and 15 mg per kg in everyday “fine baked goods.”

Last month, the Danish food authority ruled that the nation’s famous cinnamon swirls were neither traditional nor seasonal, thus limiting the quantity of cinnamon that bakers are allowed to use, placing the pastry at risk – and sparking a national outcry that could be dubbed the great Danish bake strop.

The president of the Danish Bakers’ Association, Hardy Christensen, said: “We’ve been making bread and cakes with cinnamon for 200 years. Then suddenly the government says these pastries are not traditional? I have been a baker for 43 years and never come across anything like this – it’s crazy. Using lower amounts of the spice will change the distinctive flavour and produce less tasty pastries. Normally, we do as we’re told by the government and say OK, but now it’s time to take a stand. Enough is enough.”

Meanwhile: Anonymous informant shuts down school bus cookie lady in Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen, Minn. [MPR, AP]

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November 20 roundup

by Walter Olson on November 20, 2013

  • KlearGear and the consumer non-disparagement clause that ate (or tried to eat) Chicago [Popehat and followup]
  • “House Passes Bill That Would Open Asbestos Trusts To Scrutiny” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Chamber-backed Legal NewsLine]
  • Randy Maniloff interviews Judge Richard Posner on his new book Reflections on Judging [Coverage Opinions]
  • In a custody fight, anything can happen: “Dad Accused of ‘Unfit Parenting’ for Refusing to Take His Son to McDonalds” [TIME]
  • “Released after serving 10 years on false rape accusation –then wrongly arrested for not registering as sex offender” [Chicago Tribune via @radleybalko]
  • Institute for Justice launches campaign to challenge local restrictions on food with suits over sale of cottage baked goods, front-yard vegetable gardens, advertising of raw milk [AP/Yahoo, "National Food Freedom Initiative"]
  • Alabama regulators add hassle factor when business tries to move into the state [Coyote]

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Apparently following a complaint from a local restaurateur, provincial authorities have cracked down on a pay-what-you-can informal supper club organized by High River resident Paula Elliot. “AHS shut her down … informing her they don’t approve of people sharing food. They were equally heavy handed when she tried to give away edibles to stranded flood refugees at evacuation centers.” [Jen Gerson, National Post]

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