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.