Law For Food: The law affects what you eat. What you buy to eat affects the law.

Forecast calls for increased inspections
20 September 2007, 2:22 pm
Filed under: FDA, Food Safety, Inspections, Production, Regulation

Accidental Hedonist notes from the headlines that Dole is recalling about 800 cases of produce due to a warning issued by the Canadian government that random testing had come back positive for E.Coli O157:H7. This is interesting in part because Eye on FDA links to a story which notes that

Government regulators never acted on calls for stepped-up inspections of leafy greens after last year’s deadly E. coli spinach outbreak, leaving the safety of America’s salads to a patchwork of largely unenforceable rules and the industry itself[.]

Your author is often in favor of market-driven and private solutions, and is not at all confident that FDA reforms will be driven by food-safety concerns, or that they will be equitably applied to all producers/processors. Having said that, it is clear that companies like Dole haven’t taken the opportunity, after the rash of food-borne illness outbreaks in the past two years, to ensure that the food they sell won’t make you sick and die.


Food and Energy
19 September 2007, 6:30 pm
Filed under: Economics of Eating, Food and Energy, Food Policy, food politics

Since food politics and food policy is increasingly dovetailing with energy policy and energy politics, readers may appreciate “The Oil We Eat” which appeared in Harper’s in 2004.

Food Additives and ADHD
19 September 2007, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Eating Science, Food Safety, local v. industrial

Money Quote:

[T]here was, on average, a clear increase in hyperactive behavior from the scores measured when the kids took the additive-laden juice to the scores when the same kids took the plain juice.

Energy, Ethanol, and Commodification

Via Ethicurean, a story about how the farm lobbies are split on the subject of bio-fuels such as corn-derived ethanol contains the following remarks:

Corn farmers are pushing for more ethanol production as the industry creates an enormous market for their crop, giving corn prices the kind of lift they haven’t seen in years. But the corn farmer’s win is the hog farmer’s loss. Meat, dairy and other food producers are pushing back against the ethanol boom as higher grain prices cut into their already slim profit margins.

My B.A. professor had an expression that she would use when talking about company managers and directors who got into trouble by bringing in the sorts of investors who are known for hostile takeovers: “when you sup with the devil, bring a long spoon.”

I can remember a conversation I had with Randolph at Neal’s Yard Dairy in which he pointed out that farmers who are making milk for commodity cheese are, one by one, going out of business: they are in many cases being pushed out of business by their customers, who demand lower and lower prices and slimmer and slimmer margins. Randolph rather proudly noted that the only diary farmers who were still making a sound living in the U.K. were the ones who took the care and time to make high-quality milk for handmade cheeses and the specialty food market generally.

The upshot of these three ideas in juxtaposition is that selling on the commodity market is a dangerous business. What matters is whether your product is differentiated in its market, and whether your product is made from raw inputs which are themselves differentiated within their market. If you are producing or processing commodified raw inputs, you are almost entirely at the mercy of the market. Where U.S. food producers have chosen to emphasize haste and quantity and uniformity over quality and health and flavor, they are in a commodified market, and they should have brought a longer spoon.

Respondeat Superior
14 September 2007, 6:42 pm
Filed under: Food Safety

Via Fast Food News, the story of a McDonald’s employee who has been jailed under a food poisoning law for oversalting a hamburger.

The arrest report is available at The Smoking Gun. According to the arrest report, the employee’s decision to serve the burger was motivated by her recollection of the managers “getting mad about waste” at the restaurant.

Now, setting aside the fact that it might be ridiculous for ANY food service person to be put in jail for oversalting a meal, and without looking at the specific statute, I should think that any charges should be brought against the managers, rather than the employee. Wasting bad food at a restaurant is an investment: when you serve bad food you make it less likely that people will return, and more likely that they will get food poisoning and sue. When a manager imposes a reckless waste policy, she places at risk the reputation of the restaurant and the public health.

Paying For It
14 September 2007, 6:23 pm
Filed under: Economics of Eating, Ethics of Eating, food politics, Subsidies, Taxation

The U.S. Food Policy Blog has a lot of good writing on how the U.S. government is subsidizing the advertising of pork and pork fat products. This sort of subsidy raises all sorts of questions about the role of tax dollars in the U.S. health and obesity crisis. Most interesting is that the National Pork Board is claiming, in their 2006 Annual Report, to have invented McDonald’s McRib sandwich.

For those who don’t know, the National Pork Board is also responsible for the “Pork: The Other White Meat” and is a semi-governmental entity responsible for promoting the U.S. pork industry, which in take-home terms means promoting consumption of pork. The National Pork Board is funded by what are called “checkoffs” which are legally-enforced mandatory charges (read: taxes) imposed upon producers. These checkoffs are collected by the National Pork Board and are used to promote the pork industry.

In other words, the Federal government has created a lobbying organization, and has funded that organization by taxing producers of an industry. Those taxes are no doubt passed on to the consumer.

This is one of the reasons Michael Pollan is right when he writes at the beginning of The Omnivore’s Dilemma that “eating is a political act.” The purchase of pork by a U.S. consumer, even sustainably and ethically raised pork, contributes to the funding of an organization whose interests may run entirely counter to one’s own, and indeed to the physical health of the nation.

Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
14 September 2007, 2:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The existence of the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is some of the best news I’ve heard in a while.