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FSMA

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]

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We’ve warned many times that the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 is sure to drive up food prices, make life hard for small farmers, and encourage the substitution of industrial farm methods for the traditional and local. Now the FDA is rumbling that wooden onion crates may need to give way to plastic, although defenders say wooden crates have a good safety record in actual use. “Replacing a million wooden crates would cost about $200 million. … plastic crates can only hold about half the weight of wooden ones and they cost nearly three times as much.” [Economics 21]

In June, after an outcry, the FDA backed off hints that it would end the age-old practice of aging cheese on wooden boards.

P.S. Interesting discussion in comments on whether the cited cost figures are plausible. One thing I like about Overlawyered readers is that they know so much about onion crates.

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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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The Food and Drug Administration is signaling that it may rethink a much-criticized rule that would severely restrict the reuse as livestock feed of “spent” grain used in the making of beer and other fermented beverages. [WLF "Legal Pulse"] That’s good news as far as it goes, but it’s a form of exception-making that would seem to be driven at least in part by the high visibility of this one particular recycling-and-sustainability constituency (microbrewery beer is a hot leisure activity, and and craft/organic animal husbandry is a popular consumer enthusiasm these days in educated urban circles as well). The implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 is endangering a wide range of other local, non-industrial, and traditional farming and foodmaking techniques, “such as using house-made fertilizers and irrigating from creeks,” that might not enjoy the broad constituency of microbrewing. Will anyone in Washington stick up for them?

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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.

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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.

Food roundup

by Walter Olson on March 17, 2014

  • Warnings dismissed at time: FDA rules implementing FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) of 2011 imperil practices common to organic, small growers, “such as using house-made fertilizers and irrigating from creeks” [Los Angeles Times] Oh, how D.C.’s “public-interest” establishment and its co-thinkers in the press jeered when we and others tried to raise such concerns before the bill passed!
  • Related: pursuit of locally grown/artisanal meat options collides with USDA regs that put squeeze on small slaughterhouses, overbroad recalls also a problem [Baylen Linnekin, earlier here, here, and here]
  • “America’s Obesity Problem: Legal Mechanisms for Prevention,” Duke Law School conference I spoke at (but did not write a paper for) last year, now online [Duke Forum for Law and Social Change].
  • Related: “Wellness programs addressing obesity could lead to litigation, lawyers say” [ABA Journal]
  • Looser regulation of microbrewing has already proved boon to Maryland, lawmakers now consider extending it further [Beth Rodgers, Frederick News-Post]
  • “Bill introduced to undo California’s ‘glove law’ for food preparers” [KPCC; earlier]
  • Sorry, I’ll stay home and thumb through old cookbooks instead: recent American Studies Association Food Studies Caucus program included “Food, Debt, and the Anti-Capitalist Imagination,” “Archives of Domesticity and Dissent: Cookbooks, Cooking Culture, and the Limits of Culinary Exchange,” and “Pedagogies of Food and Eating: Teaching Debt, Dissent, and Identity through Food” [Mary Grabar, Pope Center on "food studies" fad]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on November 26, 2013

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  • “The FDA’s Ill-Conceived Proposal to Ban Trans Fats” [Baylen Linnekin] Margarine and other butterfat substitutes help in keeping a meal kosher, but FDA appears indifferent to individual preference [Ira Stoll] Can the baker fudge the formula for Baltimore’s Berger cookies? [Baltimore Sun, WTOP/Capital] Organized grocery lobby appears to be going quietly, perhaps a misguided strategy since this sets a precedent for yanking familiar ingredients off Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list, and many activists would like to move on to things like sugar next [Bloomberg Business Week, Doug Mataconis/Outside the Beltway, Michelle Minton/CEI, Bainbridge] Switch to palm oil might accelerate deforestation [Scientific American]
  • FDA’s regs implementing Food Safety Modernization Act could tank small farmers and other food operations, commenters write in by thousands [Baylen Linnekin, Jim Slama, HuffPo]
  • Proposed Austin curbs on fast food restaurants might ensnare its beloved food trucks [Linnekin]
  • Any day now FDA could issue long-awaited, highly burdensome new menu calorie labeling regs [Hinkle] Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Angus King (Ind.-ME) introduce bill to excuse grocers and convenience stories from rules and simplify compliance for pizzerias [Andrew Ramonas/BLT]
  • “Panel weighs in on soda ban at law school” [NYU News covers my recent panel discussion there with Jacob Sullum and Prof. Roderick Hills, pic courtesy @vincentchauvet]
  • “Organic Farmers Bash FDA Restrictions On Manure Use” [NPR via Ira Stoll]
  • Nick Farr looks at NYT retrospective on the Stella Liebeck (McDonald’s) hot coffee case [Abnormal Use]
  • “Sugar is the most destructive force in the universe” according to expert witness who meets with less than favorable reception in corn syrup case [Glenn Lammi, WLF]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on November 8, 2013

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)]

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on April 29, 2013

  • Colony collapse disorder, the honeybee ailment, was expected to have a dire effect on U.S. agriculture. Market-driven adjustments have helped prevent that [Walter Thurman, PERC]
  • Adieu, Mimolette? Feds may be readying crackdown on imports of artisanal cheeses [Baylen Linnekin] “Food Safety Modernization Act Far More Costly Than Supporters Claimed” [Hans Bader, earlier here, here]
  • “There may be no hotter topic in law schools right now than food law and policy” [Harvard Law School, quoted by Baylen Linnekin] New book, haven’t seen yet: Jayson Lusk, “The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate” [Amazon]
  • Further thoughts on hot coffee injuries and lawsuits [Ted Frank]
  • The gain in plains is mainly due to grains: residents of mountains and high-altitude areas have less obesity [Edible Geography] Restaurant labeling: per one study, “some evidence that males ordered more calories when labels were present” [Tim Carney] NYT’s Mark Bittman endorses tax on prepared food [SmarterTimes] “Michael Poppins: When the nanny acquired a police force” [Mark Steyn, NR on Mayor Bloomberg]
  • Who’s demonizing Demon Rum these days, together with Wicked Wine and Baleful Beer? Check out an “alcohol policy” conference [Angela Logomasini, Open Market] Scottish government lobbies itself to be more prohibitionist [Christopher Snowdon]
  • Bill filed by Rep Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) would cut off taxpayer funding of food-bashing propaganda [Michelle Minton; earlier here, etc.]

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Food and farm roundup

by Walter Olson on April 10, 2013

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“The FDA has issued two proposed rules to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act enacted in 2011.” [Brian Wolfman, Public Citizen, with details and links; The Packer] “The costs to fruit and vegetable growers for complying with the newly proposed produce safety regulation have been estimated at more than $30,000 annually for large farms and about $13,000 per year for smaller farms.” [The Grower] How much do typical US farm households make in a year, you may wonder? According to U.S. government figures (here and here, for example) a large proportion of smaller family farms make little or no profit, and are instead supported by the off-farm earnings of family members. The 2011 law does provide exemptions for some of the very smallest producers, and the FDA also contemplates delayed implementation of rules for some others.

We followed the issue of small farms/foodmakers and the cost of the new law here, here, here, here, here, here (amendments aimed at lessening some burdens on small producers), and on a predecessor bill, here, here, and here.

December 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on December 23, 2010

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S. 510, which in its various versions has been much criticized in this space, passed the Senate Tuesday by a vote of 73 to 25, but its final passage may be tripped up because it includes new taxes; the Constitution requires that revenue-raising measures originate in the House, and S. 510 didn’t. (More: Reuters, WaPo, USA Today) For more critiques of the bill’s substance, see Ronald Bailey/Reason, Greg Conko/CEI (podcast), and our extensive earlier coverage.

In the mean time there’ve been lots of pixels and ink directed at our recent Cato piece on the subject, including Jonathan Adler/Volokh Conspiracy, Ann Coulter (right-hand links column Dec. 1, flatteringly), Coyote, Michelle Malkin, Ed Morrissey, Hans Bader/CEI, and others; see also Ambreen Ali/Congress.org. Thanks!

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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).

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Cherry-baggers beware

by Walter Olson on June 15, 2009

An expensive seasonBy this point there have been emphatic denials from many official quarters that the new food safety bills getting serious attention in Congress will pose any undue burden to small, localized, or specialty food enterprises (see discussion here, here, here, here, here, etc.). And yet even one prominent advocate of the new legislative push, food poisoning attorney Bill Marler, is expressing unease about the effects on small enterprise of one of the major bills, HR 759. Among other provisions, it would finance some government safety efforts by slapping a $1,000 fee on all “food facilities”, farmers alone excepted. More on the bill: Northeast Organic Farming Association, Food Law Blog. And: lawmakers at markup indicate willingness to cut fee from $1,000 to $500 (Naomi Starkman, Civil Eats; for a quick guide to other food blogs predictably differing from many views found in this space, see this post at Bitten).