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food safety

A bad idea still isn’t catching on with voters, although those on the island of Maui approved an agricultural GMO moratorium, supposedly temporary. [NPR, earlier]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on September 25, 2014

  • Our posts on the closure of California’s Westover Winery following punitive fines for letting customers volunteer continue to draw interesting comments, including one from a reader identifying himself as William Smyth, owner of the winery;
  • FDA comes out with revised proposed FSMA rules, a preliminary look [AP] Agency only partially backs off restrictions on use of spent brewing grains as animal feed [Elizabeth Brown/Reason, WLF, earlier]
  • “Cottage food” law success: “Texans Created Over A Thousand Local Businesses After Texas Eased Restrictions On Selling Food” [Nick Sibilla, IJ/Forbes]
  • Artisanal salami maker eventually managed to persuade FDA that it should be permitted to ferment product at 72 degrees as the Italians do [WaPo] Craft sausage startup in Detroit “sort of operated under ‘do-things-until-you-get-caught” [Metro Times]
  • Does drinking diet soda make you fat? [Daniel Engber, Slate]
  • Kalona, Iowa maker of squeaky cheese curds cites mounting regulatory costs in decision to close (via Julie Gunlock) [Cedar Rapids Gazette]
  • Bee colonies getting sick: indictment of modern humanity’s interaction with nature? [Timothy Taylor, Conversable Economist]

“Raw milk is risky. But that doesn’t mean it should be illegal.” [Joseph Stromberg, Vox]

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It’s happening just as warned. Janet Fletcher at the Los Angeles Times:

…cheese counters could soon be a lot less aromatic, with several popular cheeses falling victim to a more zealous U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Roquefort — France’s top-selling blue — is in the agency’s cross hairs along with raw-milk versions of Morbier, St. Nectaire and Tomme de Savoie. …

Of course, French creameries haven’t changed their recipes for any of these classic cheeses. But their wheels are flunking now because the FDA has drastically cut allowances for a typically harmless bacterium by a factor of 10.

The new rules have resulted in holds even on super-safe Parmigiano Reggiano, and the risk of losing a costly shipment of a perishable commodity is likely to be enough to drive many European producers out of the market for export to America entirely. Highly praised artisanal cheese makers in the United States are facing shutdown as well. [Michael Gebert, Chicago Reader] Earlier on the FDA and cheese regulation here and, from Cato, here (2010 predictions, before FSMA passed), here, here, etc.

They told us this administration was going to be run by wine and cheese faculty liberals. Now where are they when they could actually do us some good?

Related, note that the regulatory pressure is coming from both sides of the Atlantic: “Newsweek: French cheesemakers crippled by EU health measures” [Cheese Notes, with discussion of role of giant manufacturers whose processed cheese operations can comply with the rules] (& welcome The Week, Reason readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on August 26, 2014

  • “New York Times Hosts Panel on Farming, Forgets to Invite Farmers” [Julie Gunlock, IWF]
  • Historical perspectives on the current attack on food freedom [Baylen Linnekin and Michael Bachmann for the Institute for Justice; report, PDF, and summary; Reason and more Linnekin on the FDA's odd campaign against added ingredients which also occur naturally]
  • Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 will increase costs and reduce variety in food intended for animals as well as for humans [Jerry Ellig and Richard Williams, Cato Regulation]
  • Elyria pink cookie, pride of the Ohio town’s school system, is casualty of federal food rules [Chronicle-Telegram, WEWS] NYC may launch another attack on toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals [Jeff Quinton, earlier]
  • UC Berkeley project assists effort to step up labor union presence in food area [Bill McMorris on Food Labor Research Center]
  • Lungs are better in the open air: Scotland has at least one haggis food truck [Baylen Linnekin, Vice mag]
  • “Eat great on food stamp budget” cookbook is hit, even if fans may not always have thought through its political valence [Maryn McKenna, National Geographic "The Plate"] Push to make food stamp program data public [Slate, USDA comments]

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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