It has come to my attention by a former Obama official that the Food & Drug Administration is set to release the much anticipated "food safety rule" tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then soon.
Originally set for release in early 2012, this rule has been rumored by sources to run as long as 2,000 pages.
The Administration intentionally withheld the rule in anticipation for the 2012 election. Introduction of 2,000 pages of regulations overseeing farmers' every act and non-act would have fed right into Mitt Romney's hands. So it sat in a file scheduled for release the first week of January.
Food safety has been a rallying cry of consumer groups for decades. During the second term of the Bush Administration, you may recall a surge in food safety scares on everything from beef to tomatoes. Even though a typical American is many times more likely to die of the flu than food poisoning (indeed, both are rare), Democrats demanded stronger government intervention. But without a Democratic administration, they would have to wait.
Interestingly, President Obama devoted one of his very first weekly addresses to the most populist of populist issues: food safety. Any politician can tell you that it's easy to talk tough on food safety and almost impossible to oppose. Beginning with a White House inter-agency food safety task force, the agenda was clear: regulate farmers.
For the next two years, the House and Senate developed heavy-handed legislation that literally frightened farm groups to the point that when all was said in done, they said, "it could have been so much worse." What these groups had surrendered was, perhaps, their soul.
In a mad lame-duck rush before the GOP retook the House in January 2011, Democrats rammed the bill through, Senator Coburn caved, and Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), a bill that, in FDA's own words, is "the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years."
"Sweeping" can be defined as a very literal government takeover of U.S. food production, primarily focused on fruits, vegetables and nuts or other "high risk" crops. The definition of "high risk" is left to be defined by the scientific recommendations FDA chooses to follow. Our nation's produce makes up about half of domestic food production and unlike subsidized farmers of wheat and corn, produce growers represented the last bastions of a true market economy. The feds now say, "Don't want our subsidies? Take our regulations!"
The worst part of FSMA is that it aims to prevent food contamination. Unlike the Minority Report precogs who with some certainty saw the future, key FDA reg-writers and scientists have wrestled with the conflicting science that will allegedly provide the basis for thousands of pages of preventative practices.
FDA will have to throw down the hammer somewhere. If a farm is found to be non-compliant with the numerous regulations, they would risk fees, penalties, and even jail time. The majority of farmers cannot afford to take on additional regulations. But with a gun to the head, they will now be forced to grow the way the government tells them.
Okay, no biggie, this isn't health care or the financial industry. What harm can this rule have, since farmers only make up 1% of the population? Why should the rest of us care?
For one, we all eat. And with improved technological and production trends that have dramatically lowered prices over recent decades, we eat a lot of produce. We export a lot of that produce overseas as well. Much of the produce we consume comes from domestic soil and creates a lot of jobs from farm to fork.
FSMA creates a regulatory tax on farms which will raise food prices, kill jobs, and make farmers less competitive than their less-regulated global competitors. All of this will ensure a weakened national food security and just another government takeover.