New Food Safety Legislation Would Be Costly, Ineffective

Published December 6, 2010

New legislation to increase government supervision of food safety, primarily by allowing government-ordered food recalls, appears to have broad support from many manufacturers and food processors. But it looks like a raw deal for most everyone else.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) passed the U.S. Senate on Nov. 30 by a vote of 73 to 25. The House had already approved its own version. These actions came despite opposition from taxpayer advocates, constitutionalists, and others who recognize the counterproductive nature of the never-ending government interference in all industries in pursuit of perfect safety and security.
Such government interference ultimately raises the costs to consumers without measurably improving public health or reducing the potential for the rare mishap. I say “rare mishap” because if you count up every food scare and food recall in our nation in the past 10 years, and compare the volume of the affected product with the amount of our remarkable food supply, you would tire of writing zeros after the decimal point before getting to the infinitesimal number describing the percentage of our food that is tainted.
The United States already has the safest food supply in the world. Yet it seems as if we have had an increase of problems in recent years, because the Internet now reports every stomachache while neglecting to acknowledge the amazing job our food processing and agriculture industries do.
Their incentive to provide us the safest food without government oversight should be obvious. Provide food that could causes illness, and sales disappear. Their business would soon be gone.
For more than a decade, the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have told us that every year there are 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. What they don’t mention is that more than 90 percent of these illnesses were not caused by the food source. They result from poor handling of food in our own kitchens, such as leaving food unrefrigerated or eating leftovers that went bad because they were stored too long.
This storm of misinformation distracts the public from the fact that we eat better than any other nation while using only 10 percent of our family income. People in most other developed nations spend twice as much of their income on food, and in less developed countries they spend more than triple the percentage of income we spend on food.
I guarantee this legislation will impose high costs and provide nearly no benefits—a great contrast to those that are already provided freely by the men and women responsible for our nation’s abundant and impressively clean and safe food supply.
Jay Lehr ([email protected]) is science director at The Heartland Institute in Chicago.