Food Fight: An Unappetizing Development

Our regulation-hungry leaders in Washington are acquiring a new taste in governmental control.  A sumptuous feast of tempting regulatory delicacies awaits them under the guise of improving the safety of our food supply.  Is this a well-meaning but horrendously misguided attempt by the administration to "protect" the public through draconian regulations heaped onto farmers and small food processing businesses?  After all, leftist policy-makers are the masters of unintended consequences.

Radical environmentalist organizations such as the Sierra Club have long fought battles alongside the EPA against individual farmers for producing "animal emissions" and farm dust.  Now the EPA is using the Endangered Species Act of 1973 as a weapon against agriculture.  The latest and most egregious example of this is the EPA enforcement of the act to turn off the water supply to the farmers of the San Joaquin valley.  Arguably the most essential of America's "bread baskets", it was producing as much as 12% of the nation's agriculture, at least until the EPA decided that the protection of the three-inch Delta Smelt was more important and deserved the water more than the farmers.  Now up to 40,000residents are out of work and short of food.  They are waiting in lines up to five hours long for food packages marked "Product of China".  Farms are going bankrupt and being abandoned in droves.  Obama has so far denied requests to reverse the EPA's decision.

There are 1,320 officially-designated endangered species in the US.  Each one can be used to regulate and restrict agriculture as the EPA so deigns. I agree with George Carlin, who used to say, "Species disappear at a rate of 25 a day, regardless of our behavior.  Let them go gracefully."

That brings us to the two-edged sword of the FDA.  I have worked with the FDA (known to insiders as "the Agency") for over thirty years, so I know from personal experience that it can be a force for good in protecting public health.  It has restrained many a pharmaceutical and medical device business from illegal or unethical practices.  On the other hand, it has destroyed good companies and prevented beneficial products from reaching the market, many times based on the political agenda of the Agency at the time.  In this case, the sword is being directed by Obama political appointees and the legislation currently before Congress.  It is pointed directly at the heart of the food industry. 

There are two major pieces of food legislation in progress, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 (HR  2749), and the Food Modernization Act of 2009 (HR 875).  These bills unleash a cornucopia of new regulations and harsh penalties on small farmers and food processors.  Fines of up to $7.5 million can be assessed and sentences of up to ten years in prison can be imposed for violations of the new regulations.  All farms and food businesses must pay a mandatory annual FDA registration fee of $500.  There are fears that the new laws will make growing organic foods illegal by outlawing the use of manure and requiring chemical pesticide application to all crops.  Other frightening interpretations of the provisions in these bills include potentially mandating genetically-modified (GM) crops and "terminator" seeds that will require farmers to purchase new GM seeds each season. 

One thing is certain.  The Obama administration is fundamentally changing food regulation to more closely resemble the current regulations on pharmaceuticals and medical devices.  New FDA draft guidance documents have been issued on food regulation, with more to come.  These automatically become law in two years with no congressional approval required.

One example of the unsustainable burden being placed on the food industry is the FDA's new draft guidance document "Commodity Specific Food Safety Guidelines for the Fresh Tomato Food Chain".  Don't let the term "guidelines" fool you.  This is an Agency code word for "enforceable regulations".  Under this guidance document, all growers must develop written procedures for risk mitigation strategies, employee hygiene practices, employee training and other employee policies, internal quality audits, and process validations.  They must keep written records of environmental assessments, water usage, pest control, crop production practices, corrective action processes, and the conducting of employee training and internal audits.  All of these documents and records are subject to unannounced FDA on-site inspection.  Violations will result in fines and/or imprisonment.

These types of regulations are very difficult for established pharmaceutical and medical device businesses to follow.  Many of them must hire legions of professional consultants (mostly retired FDA inspectors) to interpret Agency laws.  Imagine the difficulty that will now be faced by a local farmer or a corner bakery.  Many will be driven out of business.

Let me temper these concerns with the fact that we are unarguably in need of stronger enforcement of our existing food regulations.  Particularly required is increased inspection of imported food products.  Currently, FDA inspections are conducted only on 1% of all foreign meats, fruit, and vegetables.  Even fewer foreign raw food ingredients are inspected.  Under the Obama administration, the number of inspectors is being increased.  But at the same time, the ravenous regulatory bureaucrats have been unfettered and are champing at the bit.

Is it possible that our benevolent Democrat-controlled legislative and executive branches would want to control the American populace through acquiring power over one of our basic needs for survival?  To paraphrase an old adage, "once you've got them by their stomachs, their hearts and minds will follow".

The use of food to control and enslave populations has been evidenced throughout history.  The most well-known example of this was the Stalinist revolution.  Of course, he blatantly starved to death millions of Ukrainians who attempted to rebel against his authority.  But he also used food to control the people of Soviet Russia.  In the book Food Nations, an essay entitled "Food and the Politics of Scarcity in Urban Soviet Russia, 1917-1941" by Mauricio Borrero, states:

In the first decades of Soviet power, a "politics of scarcity" developed in response to the government's claims to control all aspects of food supply (production, transportation, and distribution) and its inability to perform these activities in a consistently reliable manner...In the context of persistent shortages and widespread social upheaval that was sometimes spontaneous (Civil War) and sometimes state-induced (the Stalin revolution), the government's control of food supplies became one of the "sticks" by which it sought to restore order and enforce discipline...Thus, with sharply reduced food stocks at its disposal, government rationing policies alternated between notions of food as a right to be given to all and as a privilege to be awarded by the state to selected groups of people.

My suspicions of the motives of our President are aroused by his famous pre-election quote: "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want ...That's not going to happen (under the Obama administration)." 

Forget government-run healthcare, forget "cap and trade".  Those issues don't matter to people who don't have enough to eat.  Government regulation and control of our food supply may be the ultimate assault on our freedom.

Andrew Thomas blogs at
Dark Angel Politics.