Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin has appeared recently in a variety of media outlets to share our stance on many of the more controversial food issues today.
For example, Linnekin appeared on BBC Radio (audio starts at about 28:30) this week to discuss the state of the U.S. food safety system in the face of an ongoing scandal involving the misbranding of meat--in this case horsemeat being sold as ground beef--across the European Union. And earlier this month, a column by Linnekin critical of the FDA's newly proposed food safety rules appeared at Food Safety News, a leading food safety website. The column's fact-based criticism of the FDA's costly but ineffective proposals so riled many regulatory cheerleaders that it led Food Safety News to print a response by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)--a multi-million-dollar interest group that advocates for dramatic increases in food regulations at all levels of government.
Because new soda taxes and bans seemingly are proposed on a weekly basis, Linnekin also appeared on News/Talk 760 WJR (audio runs about 10-1/2 minutes) in Detroit to present our arguments against a petition to the FDA by CSPI urging the agency to place a hard cap on the amount of sweetener that can appear in beverages. He also appeared on WVMT NewsTalk 620 in Vermont to discuss Keep Food Legal's opposition to a potential soda tax in the state. (See more on that story--including our written testimony before the Vermont legislature--in the blog post at left.)
Other media appearances have focused on a variety of issues--including everything from the popular Dodge "God Made a Farmer" Super Bowl commercial (which Linnekin discussed in his weekly Reason column) and an appearance on New York University's WNYU radio to discuss the unintended consequences of farm subsidies.
Stay tuned--quite literally--for more from Keep Food Legal! And make sure to follow us on Twitter, where we always announce our scheduled media appearances before they happen.
Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin's latest academic research, The Food-Safety Fallacy: More Regulation Doesn't Necessarily Make Food Safer, has just been published by the Northeastern University Law Journal. The article is based on a talk Linnekin gave as an invited speaker at the Journal's 2011 food-law conference.
In the article, Linnekin uses historical examples to rebut the common misconception that more and more regulation leads to safer and safer food. Instead, Linnekin argues that food-safety regulations have often made food (and, consequently, people) less safe.
Examples featured in the article include 1) France's 18th Century potato ban, which Thomas Jefferson witnessed firsthand and condemned in strong terms; 2) the USDA's nine-decade "poke and sniff" inspection scheme, inwhich USDA inspectors likely transmitted filth from diseased meat to fresh meat on a daily basis; and 3) the summer 2010 recall of hundreds of millions of eggs due to negligent USDA oversight at the laying facility--even as the agency's egg graders provided the public with the false veneer of food safety.
The article first defines and describes key differences between “old” and “new” conceptions of public health (relying on the writings of Prof. Richard Epstein), and the evolving relationship of these terms to food safety. It then provides several examples of food-safety regulations that made consumers less safe, rather than safer. Finally, the article urges a return to “old” public health as a meaningful alternative to increased federal spending and authority in the area of “new” public health.
Congress should require federal agencies to return to regulating on behalf of the old public health. The government should stop trying to eliminate all risk from the adult diet, and let people knowingly make decisions about their own health vis-à-vis food (as with unpasteurized dairy products or Four Loko).
A return to old public health would help agencies that claim to be hampered by limited budgets to fulfill more effectively their missions. Efforts by the FDA to prevent mad cow disease by banning the feeding of offal to animals, for example, demonstrate a proper “old” public-health focus that government regulators should pursue.
In addition to Pres. Jefferson and Prof. Epstein, Linnekin's research cites early-20th Century advocates like Upton Sinclair and Harvey Wiley (the father--and later harsh critic--of the FDA) and contemporary writers like Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Greg Conko, and others.
By Baylen J. Linnekin
Last year President Barack Obama signed into law a sweeping update of the nation’s food-safety system. Many commentators have called the new legislation the most important update of Food & Drug Administration (FDA) authority in nearly seventy-five years.
Just what does the new $1.4-billion law provide taxpayers? The general consensus among supporters of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is that it will both give the FDA more power to crack down on food-safety scofflaws and decrease the incidence of foodborne illness across the country.
The Act will almost certainly accomplish the former by providing the agency with not just tens of millions of additional dollars to spend each year, but also new ways to spend the money, including the ability to hire thousands of new inspectors with new powers. But was FDA power and authority really an issue?
Prominent food-safety advocates from Marion Nestle to Michael Pollan over the years have painted the FDA as a neutered agency powerless to stop the excesses of large food producers. Similarly, a joint Institute of Medicine/National Research Council food-safety report issued in 2010 concluded that the FDA needed more power, a claim the agency immediately embraced. Others, though, chafe at this characterization. One critic claims the FSMA will “waste billions of taxpayer dollars without making our food supply any safer.”
Who will see their competing vision proven correct—critics or supporters of the new law? While only the future will tell, we can and should look to the past to predict whether costly government efforts to make our food safer will succeed. In hindsight, the FDA’s own record—and those of other federal agencies—shows that food-safety regulations often rest on factually erroneous premises and, consequently, can sometimes be so counterproductive that they may tend to actually make consumers less safe. Examples of this phenomenon exist throughout history, and these examples will serve as the focus of this article.
Section II of this article describes key differences between “old” and “new” conceptions of public health, and the evolving relationship of these terms to food safety. Section III gives several examples of food-safety regulations that made consumers less safe, rather than safer. Finally, Section IV suggests a return to “old” public health as a meaningful alternative to increased federal spending and authority in the area of “new” public health.
Read Linnekin's complete article (including footnote citations) in the forthcoming symposium edition of the Northeastern University Law Journal.
Keep Food Legal executive director Baylen Linnekin will present his research in the area of food safety on Friday, Jan. 21 as part of the Northeastern University Law Journal symposium, “From Seed to Stomach: Food and Agricultural Law.” Linnekin will sit on a food-safety panel and present his draft article, The Food-Safety Fallacy: Why More Regulations Don’t Make for Safer Food. Click here to learn more about the symposium.