FDA Controls Organic Farming
|March 16, 2014||Posted by Fred Foldvary under Editorials|
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is now imposing restrictions that will devastate many small farms that provide healthy food. The bad news was published by the Health Impact News Daily issue of 16 March 2014 in an article by the Alliance for Natural Health, “FDA Starts to Take Control of American Organic Farms.”
According to the article, an inspector of the FDA visited the New Morning Farm in Maryland and threatened to impose fines unless the owner switched to government-dictated farming, even though there has been no health problem from food grown on that farm.
Another article, in the 22 February 2014 Los Angeles Times, announced, “Planned food safety rules rile organic farmers.” It stated that the FDA regulations will stop common organic farming techniques such as the use of locally-made fertilizers and irrigation from creeks.” Draft animals used for plowing may become illegal.
The FDA gets its new powers over farms from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in January 2011. You can go to the FDA web site and read the “FSMA Rules & Guidance for Industry.”
If you run a farm, what would you think of having to read through a dozen complicated rules you will have to obey? After a hard day of farming work, the tired farmer has to read publications such as:
- “What Information is Required in the Records You Must Establish and Maintain to Identify the Nontransporter and Transporter Immediate Previous Source and Immediate Subsequent Recipients? (Sections 1.337 and 1.345).”
- “Who is Required to Establish and Maintain Records for Tracing the Transportation of All Food? (Section 1.351).”
- “What Are the Consequences of Failing to Establish and Maintain Required Records or Make Them Available to FDA? (Section 1.363).”
You can also see the many FSMA “fact sheets”.
The new FDA farming rules require periodic audits that will cost several thousand dollars for each one. Farms are already closing down their produce production to avoid costs that can be over $100,000 per year.
The FDA is now choking organic farming with huge amounts of such details. As with many other regulatory proceedures, the FDA rules promote the concentration of industries into large companies that can handle the regulation costs, while small companies shut down because of the compliance costs.
The “market failure” doctrine that prevails in economics claims that in a free market, monopolies will arise to dominate industries with higher prices than in competitive industries. But in actuality, it is big government’s regulations that drive out the small producers and promote the concentration of firms in an oligopoly, an industry dominated by a few firms. Despite the presence of large banks, there are still small banks and credit unions that serve local communities. But regulations are too costly, all that will remain are large banks.
Many regulations exempt very small enterprises, but these also stifle business by preventing small firms from getting bigger. The result is less cultivation of fruits and vegetables in the USA and more imported food. Perhaps one good aspect of the FSMA is that in response to safety concerns about imported food, foreign exporters will be subjected to new safety rules. To facilitate foreign compliance, the FDA has translated documents about the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act into 11 languages.
The FDA is implementing a mandate authorized by Congress. The U.S. government claims this authority from the “commerce clause” of the US Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3), which states that Congress has the power “To regulate Commerce … among the several States.” Many constitutional scholars think that the founders intended this clause to prevent trade barriers among the states, and not to give the US government a blank check to enact any legislation it pleases, which is the current situation, even though this contradicts the original intention of the founders to limit the power of the federal government to strictly listed functions.
There is indeed a global food safety problem, with frightening cases of food contamination and poisoning. But the optimal way to deal with this problem is with a liability rule that enables victims to obtain quick compensation for any damage, and indeed, inspections, ideally by state government agencies rather than the federal government. As a service to the public, the inspections should be paid for from government funds, rather than imposing arbitrary and burdensome costs on farmers. It should be the responsibility of governmental officials to know the rules and apply them, and allow any farm method to be used so long as the inspectors do not judge them to be dangerous.
A demand by the public for food safety, combined with liability for damage, will be met by the market supply of safety measures and assurances. Insurance companies would inspect the farms in order to avoid the adverse selection of bad farms getting the most insurance. There are in fact private food inspectors operating, but since government preempts food safety, the demand and supply for private inspections diminishes.
The US government is responding to a real problem, but as typically happens, the government’s response fails a cost-benefit analysis. Congress ignores the cost of its regulations, and the voters are too busy and too ignorant to insist that Congress adhere to economic logic.
Meanwhile, we can expect a greater concentration of farming into large corporate agriculture, more expensive food, and fewer opportunities for progressive food entrepreneurs.