The Sickening Nature of Many Food-Safety Regulations

Nearly 18 months after passage of the Food Safety
Modernization Act
, a landmark piece of legislation that granted
new powers and authority to the FDA, the legislation is
still mired in
congressional debates over how to fund it. If this status update
sounds familliar, it’s with good reason. The FSMA found itself in a
similar place six
months ago
 and a
year ago

As FSMA implementation treads water, my own latest piece of
research on the subject has just been published by
the Northeastern University Law Journal. It’s based
on a talk I gave as a panelist at the journal’s 2011
food-law conference—held
just weeks after the FSMA became law.

In my article, “The Food-Safety Fallacy:More
Regulation Doesn’t Necessarily Make Food Safer,” I use ancient and
more recent historical examples of flawed rules to rebut the
common misconception that more food-safety regulation means safer
food. Rather, history shows us that food-safety regulations have
often made food (and, consequently, people) less safe.

How can a food-safety regulation make people less safe? There
are several ways. You’ll want to read the entire article if
you’d like more examples, but I think these three should suffice to
illustrate my point.

First, a flawed food-safety regulation can prevent people from
gaining access to a healthy food. In 18th century France, the
country’s parliament banned consumption of the potato. Among the
host of diseases the govenment mistakenly attributed to consumption
of the tuber was leprosy. This was particularly problematic because
at the time France’s government issued the potato edict, the
country was in the midst of a famine.

 Francophile Thomas Jefferson would have
witnessed the ban firsthand. He later condemned it in strong terms
in a famous passage from his Notes on the State of
, in which he lays out his vision of the regulatory
authority of government as pertains to religion, food, and

The legitimate powers of government extend to such
acts only as are injurious to others. . . . Was the government
to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies
would be in such keeping as our [British-subjugated] souls
are now. Thus in France the emetic was

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