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?
- 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]
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).
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)
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.
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.