“Produce growers represent a textbook example of what businesses describe as regulatory fatigue….’It is just that one layer after another gets to be — trying to top the people before them,'” says an apple grower near Albany. Food law expert Baylen Linnekin sees a comparative compliance advantage going to mass-scale growers as well as foreign produce suppliers. And now here comes the Food Safety Modernization Act, often warned of in this space [Steve Eder, New York Times]
- Hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama trends on Twitter after high schoolers tweet it with pics of unappetizing lunch trays, provoking “shut up and eat what’s put in front of you” reactions from some who support the new federally prescribed rules. Maybe better to listen instead? [Kevin Cirilli, The Hill, Rachel Zarrell, BuzzFeed]
- “After suing a small California company for calling its eggless product ‘Just Mayo,’ Hellmann’s maker Unilever tweaked references on its websites to products that aren’t exactly mayonnaise either.” [AP/Tulsa World]
- Mark Bittman/Michael Pollan scheme for national food policy? Send it back to the kitchen, please [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
- Johnny Appleseed, substance abuse enabler [Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian]
- One factor behind drive for new GMO non-browning potato: legal pressure against acrylamide, naturally forming browning component, by way of Calif. Prop 65 lawsuits and regulations [Guardian, New York Times]
- Costly, fussy, coercive: Minneapolis micromanages convenience food sales [Baylen Linnekin]
- No, FSMA isn’t worth the damage it’s doing to food variety and smaller producers [same]
The holiday season fast approaches, and with it comes the busiest time of the year at Brooklyn’s cheese counters. … This year, however, one name will be missing from the must-have list, and it’s a coveted favorite for cheesemongers and customers alike. … on August 15th, Andy Hatch, co-owner and head cheesemaker at Uplands, sent a ripple through the cheese world when he announced via an email to his customers that Uplands had cancelled production of Rush Creek Reserve. In his own words:
I’m writing to let you know that we will not be making any Rush Creek Reserve this year. It’s disappointing news, I know, and we hope that it’s not permanent. Food safety officials have been unpredictable, at best, in their recent treatment of soft, raw-milk cheeses, and until our industry is given clear and consistent guidance, we are forced to stop making these cheeses. I’m sorry if this throws a wrench into your plans for the holidays — it certainly does on our end. It’s not a decision we came to easily. Hopefully, our government officials will soon agree on how to treat traditional cheesemaking, and we can all return to the cheeses that are so important to us.
Wouldn’t it be great if the newly elected and more regulation-skeptical Congress passed and sent to the President a bill to roll back or repeal the FSMA and save endangered foods like Rush Creek Reserve?
- 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]
…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)
- “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]
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.
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)
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.
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?