The egg and I

The New York Times invited me to contribute to its “Room for Debate” feature on the big egg recall and here is an excerpt from my reply:

…Advocates cite the current outbreak, at last report limited to two related Iowa egg farms, as reason to enact pending legislation that would intensify federal regulation of food-making in the name of safety. Large food and agribusiness companies have generally signed off on most of the new proposals as acceptable. Many smaller producers, on the other hand, suspect there will be less room for them, and for local variety generally, in this reassuring new world of business and government cooperation.

I go on to cite the CPSIA debacle, in which a safety enactment devastated small producers of children’s goods while entrenching some of the dominant industry players. Read the full post here. Some other perspectives worth checking out: Ronald Bailey, Ira Stoll, Ann Althouse. (cross-posted from Cato at Liberty; and welcome Nick Gillespie/Reason “Hit and Run” readers).


  • I have been watching this entire egg-Salmonella imbroglio with amazement. (1) Salmonella is easily killed by cooking; it is not a spore forming or thermophilic organism. (2) Forty years ago my mother and aunt advised me against eating raw eggs because . . . hold your breath here . . . YOU CAN GET SALMONELLA FROM RAW EGGS!!

  • This is the Alar for eggs. The regulators and inspectors aren’t paying attention like they should. Something happens, their answer is not to apologize, but to blame someone else and try to enact further regulation with a greater budget. After all, its for the children. Just cook the eggs, and it will be alright.

  • And Richard Epstein. (There seems to be a typo in where you end the block quote in this post.)

  • Thanks, fixed block quote problem.

  • Wait’ll they find out you can get tapeworms from pork and mad cow from beef. Or are their respective lobbies better financed than the egg producers?

  • Nice comment section over there, by the way. The most flattering ones are “well, gee, I hate this guy Olson’s guts, but he might be on to something here.”

  • My favorites in that comment section are the ones from the practitioners of Extreme Factual Skepticism who demand proof that CPSIA has done any special harm to small producers of children’s goods aside from the recession. If they don’t consider that point well-established by now, maybe it’s because the New York Times (an absurdly belated October 2009 story aside) steadfastly refused to do any reporting on that story, long after most other big papers were on to it.

  • But Walter, they read the paper! They’re so much better than you!

  • “Many smaller producers, on the other hand, suspect there will be less room for them, and for local variety generally, in this reassuring new world of business and government cooperation. ”

    Leaving less room for small producers and local variety is probably one of the goals that the authors and promoters of this legislation want to achieve. To them, it’s a feature, not a bug. They won’t admit it, of course. They use “consumer safety” as cover to justify the law. But the real motives behind this law, in my opinion, are (a) rent-seeking by the big producers, who want to freeze smaller competitors out of the market, and (b) the statist desire of legislators for tight government control over agriculture, which is a lot easier to achieve when you only have a handful of large companies to regulate.

  • At this point, those people who demand “proof” that the CPSIA is harmful are either people who have been paying no attention to the issue, or are people who are explicitly committed in their minds to not acknowledging any problem with the law. Common sense would tell them that a regulatory regime that is very expensive to comply with will drive out of the market any producers too small to pay the cost of complying with that regime. And if they don’t trust common sense, they still have the testimonial of many small businesses owners on how the costs of the CPSIA have harmed or wrecked their businesses. If they reject this testimony as “anecdotes”, then it’s clear that they have committed themselves to rejecting any evidence that the law is harmful. Which means it’s pointless to waste time trying to persuade them of it – they refuse to believe it because they don’t want to believe it, and no matter what argument you come up with, they’ll think up some rationalization to justify rejecting your argument.

  • I met a guy who replaced all the plumbing in a school because of a positive indication for lead in the water. The water entering the building had no lead. The idea was that the lead was coming from solder. If you ever did a sweat joint, you would know that but a trivial amount of solder is exposed to water. It is a truly nutty idea.

    The water was checked after the man finished his work, and lead was still there. Some lead is needed for faucets to work. I just found out why the sensors for lead are so sensitive. It has nothing to do with health, but the levels of lead picked up by the sensors could mess up geological age determinations.

    If the source of the salmonella was found and cleaned up, then the health system worked. Why would new laws be required?

  • I like the commentors (at NYT) who point out that this shoots the locavore movement in the head, but that it’s still okay because it affects big business too.

    It’s like the old joke about the old Polack who finds a bottle with a genie. The genie grants him a wish. He wishes that Genghis Khan and his Horde would rise from the grave and sack Poland. The genie says “why do you want that to happen?” The Polack says “because on the way here he’ll go through Russia!”