Thursday, November 11, 2010

Abolishing the USDA and FDA

It wouldn't kill us, and might even make us healthier, argues Michael Kleen — Market Alternatives for Food Safety. His first paragraph:
    Most Americans go about their daily lives convinced that the Federal government, through the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, protects them from eating poisoned food. If not for the USDA or the Food and Drug Administration, they imagine, every food item on the store shelf would be suspect. Restaurateurs would unwittingly sell E. coli-infected meat and produce to their customers on a daily basis, and the simple act of eating would become like a game of Russian roulette. But what if that protection was largely an illusion? What if there were other simpler, quicker, and more efficient alternatives to food safety than the USDA? Would it not be sensible to abandon this outdated bureaucracy in favor of these alternatives?

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Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

At some point, in order to control the deficits, we have to move beyond simply cutting budgets to actually cutting out agencies. There simply isn't enough money to run all the agencies. Hard choices will have to be made. Of course, I would also like to see such proposals pared with significant cuts to the military budget -- perhaps proposals to eliminate the Air Force, merging its few essential functions back into the Army? Or fusing the Marine Corps back into the Navy? There are only two military branches mentioned in the Constitution (army and navy) after all.

Of course, it would also be a good thing to revert to the original name of the Defense Department -- the Department of War. Truth, as Orwell says, is essential in public affairs.

2:29 PM  
Blogger kushibo said...

The food industry may be driven by profit to fill a need for inexpensive food, but the people who own and manage the companies that make up the industry, along with their employees and all of their children, must eat the same food as everyone else.

Um, yeah. Right. Just like real estate developers live in the housing they own or have built. Just like cops live in the communities they police. Just like airline execs sit in the same seats they provide us. Etc., etc.

That argument may work for some things (e.g., airline safety, GMO food dangers), but it falls apart with many things.

If anything, food inspection should be upped significantly. Maybe we can increase beef inspection by ten times, just so we can get it back to pre-Bush levels.

3:18 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Mark, excellent proposals, all of them. Also, the constitution speaks of "raising an army and maintaining a navy." Let's have well-armed and trained state-level national guards and no standing army.

kushibo, I'm all for food inspection, just by someone more competent than the state. I psoted an article here a while ago about how many places were moving away from government certification of organic food to a more decentralized and personal certification because it was more reliable.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Mark in Spokane said...

Indeed, private certification could lead to much better outcomes than a public monopoly given the competition that would result. Imagine the marketing possibilities of private certification!

As for the military, I still think that in the modern world, a standing army is necessary -- I am a Hamiltonian, not a Jeffersonian in this regard. However, I am very supportive of the idea of public militia/National Guard being the bulk of the troops, with a much smaller professional army during peacetime.

5:59 AM  
Blogger kushibo said...

Yes, let's imagine the marketing possibilities.

Rather than rising to a higher standard, what is more likely is a sinking to a lowest common denominator, taking advantage of the larger public's ignorance about what the health risks are and why they're important.

Convince most of the public that such-and-such bacteria isn't that dangerous (only 1 in 5000 people die of food-borne illness every year!) then you get a large-scale "testing manufacturer" that becomes a juggernaut of bare-bones testing that prices more thorough (and quality) testing services out of the market.

A race to the bottom. In a world where VHS beat out Beta, Windows had 20 times the market share of Apple or Linux, and "reality TV" nearly killed quality drama television, I don't have so much faith that a wide breadth of thorough testing can be accomplished by the for-profit sector.

The USDA and FDA need to be beefed up, not tossed aside. I see plenty of room for private companies to compete for government contracts to provide some of these services based on clearly set public health goals, but if left on their own, I don't see tossing the whole thing over to the private sector unregulated will lead to the same needed across-the-board testing regimens.

7:34 AM  
Blogger mcmlxix said...

There a many kosher certification boards, and none of them are run by the government. This seems to work well for Jews who after all observe various levels of kosher.

And if I want to eat organic, non GMO food, I won't trust the FDA to provide me with the information I need to know. There are various certification boards for that...some more reliable than others.

4:45 AM  

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