November 26

Regulation nation

10  comments

America is in regulatory overdrive.
I just posted on how USDA regulators prevent food artisans from selling delicious meat products that aren’t produced in accordance with strict guidelines despite the fact that these foods have been produced the traditional way without problems for centuries. Onerous as they are, the USDA are merely the tip of the regulation iceberg.
According to an article (requires subscription) in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal companies in the US are not only being inundated with lawsuits (currently an average of 305 per company) but are being strangled with regulatory demands as well.

Half of the in-house counsel reported that their companies also faced at least one new arbitration and one new regulatory proceeding in 2005-06. Biggest government instigators? The SEC and OSHA. But state attorneys general are also regular players, as are the FTC, EPA, the FDA and multiple other federal agencies with the power to subpoena.

I know a fair amount about regulation, having been ‘regulated’ once myself. A company I was involved with attracted the attention of the FTC, and, although nothing came of it other than a legal bill of grotesque proportions, I got to stare into the face of how regulation works in America today. It’s not pretty.
I realized from my bitter experience that regulation is only going to get worse and regulatory agencies are only going to get stronger. Why? Because of how the system works.
Whenever I encountered something so bizarre and Orwellian in my own regulatory nightmare and asked our attorney how such a system could have come into existence in the land of the free, he would say: “Congress has granted the FTC broad powers.”
I finally realized how the system works and why it is unlikely to ever get better. Congress grants the powers, but if never takes them back. And once regulators get the powers, they use them to the fullest extent of their abilities.
Usually Congress grants the powers because of some abuse. And many people pressure them to do so. A good example is the recent outbreak of E. coli O157 H7 in fresh spinach that I posted about. Virtually every article I read on the subject demanded that the government take over the regulation of the fresh spinach packing industry. That’s how it always starts.
Politicians love to jump on something like this because it gives them the appearance of doing something. Once a regulatory bill has been introduced, other politicians jump on board, the bill gets passed, and, Bingo, we’ve got another set of regulations for the regulators to use to cause trouble.
Problem is with all this is that the regulation pipeline is like a one-way valve. New regulations are added constantly, but regulations are almost never undone, so the total number in place constantly grows.
No politician wants to remove regulations. Let’s say that Congress approves some sort of regulation for the spinach situation. Once in place, let’s say that the law of unintended consequences jumps up (as it almost always does with Congress’s rules and regulations) and causes problems. If a politician decides to try to remove the onerous regulation and is successful, and then there is another spinach problem, the politician gets crucified. He (or she) takes the blame. Most politicians want to play it safe, and it’s much easier to play it safe by sponsoring, endorsing, and supporting new regulatory legislation than by getting rid of regulations already in place. Therefore we’ve got a one-way regulatory street.
I suspect that, stupid as the USDA regulations are concerning curing meat, they’re here to stay. So, if you want to have prosciutto or serrano made the real way, you’ll have to go to Europe or make it yourself.
I’ve ordered the books on home curing, and as soon as they get here, I intend to put MD to work curing and home processing. I’ll keep you posted.
If it all works out, however, don’t ask me to sell you any. One bout of regulation in this lifetime is more than enough for me.


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  1. It’s not only the amount of regulation, it’s the unsystemic nature of most of the regulations. Spinach is a case in point. As I understand it, that virulent strain of e coli got into the spinach because the grain diet of nearby cattle causes an acidic intestine that favors this particular strain. Had the cattle not been fed grain, there would be no problem. So if any regulations flow from this particular mess, they should be regulations about cattle feed, not spinach packing.
    Are you surprised that I agree with you?
    Hi Chuck–
    You’re right about how the regulations should be set, but that requires a degree of intellectual application that is far beyond the reach of most politicians and regulators. No one has really focused on the fact that the virulent E. coli arose as a consequence of feeding cattle grain. Go back and look at the comment in my second post on the subject from Bill Marler, the lead attorney in multiple lawsuits against the spinach packing industry.  That is the kind of mindset that gets regulations put in place: it’s too hard to finger the cattle situation, but we’ve got people with blood on their hands (the spinach packers), so let’s get them.
    I’m not surprised that you agree with me.  I’m sure you would be surprised, however, at how often I agree with you.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  2. ..the puritanism that pervades America will,i reckon, take some time to abate.
    I lived there for 3.5 years (In Seattle and Big Sur) and whislt have many great pals who live there i think in many ways it’s societally certifiable given the way many of its citizens seem to think ..perhaps better put..don’t reason ?
    Yee ever read The Blank Slate, the modern denial of human nature by Pinker ?
    Canny member if the take on why America is as it is(versus places like Can-Ardour or Australia where the law basically arrived afore the settlers..or at least the same time, verus the other way round in the case of the UnUnited States) , is his or cited from a another but very very interesting ref laws and commodities and the collision within the then forming society.
    If not read it you’d love it.
    Hi Simon–
    Yours is the second recommendation I’ve gotten to read The Blank Slate. I have it; now I just have to read it.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  3. read this
    Hi Larry–
    Thanks for the link.  I agree with everything except the part about there being no health or longevity consequences to obesity.  Take a look at all the 80+ year old people you know and tell me how many of them are obese.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  4. As irrational as it sounds, we have the government we’ve asked for. Every time something happens the public demands that the government “do something”. As unfortunate as it is, the government and court systems are our only defence against the abuses of large corporate interests who have proven time and again that business cannot be trusted to provide transparent information (Enron, Pharmaceuticals etc), or be self-regulatory. But rather than address the root of the problem, they look for a quick fix that will placate the public, and generally the long term effect is worse than the original problem.
    Hi Kevin–
    I pretty much agree with you except I believe that our own government is more dangerous than the large corporations.  Our system of government provides protection against the depredations of large corporations, but no one provides any protection against the ravages of our own government.
    For example, if General Motors screws you, the government provides a court system that allows you to sue GM for redress.  If the government screws you, where do you turn?  The government certainly isn’t going to help you.
    Take the FTC for example.  If you run afoul of them and don’t like what happens, you can take it to court.  Problem is that the court you take it to is an FTC court, staffed with people who work at and are paid by the FTC.  These FTC courts, unsurprisingly, always find in favor of the FTC regulators that are screwing you.  If you want to appeal, you can appeal the findings of the FTC court to the full compliment of FTC commissioners, which, again unsurprisingly, always confirm the findings of the FTC court.  Only after you’ve gone through this gauntlet can you actually get your case into a real court.  By that time you’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Most of the regulatory agencies work in similar fashion.
    Cheers–
    MRE

  5. I think it goes a bit deeper though – WHY are we so regulated? IMHO because we are such a litigious society – anyone can be sued at the drop of a hat for any reason – so the government is trying to protect us from ourselves again AND from the inevitable court-clogging and often frivolous lawsuits that come about – I think THIS is the reason we are over-regulated!
    Perhaps if we over-regulated the attorneys and trying to file frivolous lawsuits, they’d back off and things could settle into some sort of reasonable scheme – maybe, maybe not….
    Hi Char–
    Agreed.  Litigation is out of control.  The same article in the Wall Street Journal that I quoted said that on average each halfway large corporation has 300+ lawsuits going on at any given time.  We all pay for this.
    Best–
    MRE

  6. We’re not alone – Canada is going after farmers who sell raw milk! (Click here for link)
    Hi Regina–
    Canada, with its nationalized health service, is even more of a nanny state than we are.  It’s a good thing for them that we’re so close–all their citizens can come here to get the quality medical service not available to them north of the border.
    Thanks for the link.
    MRE

  7. As far as being a litigious society, I think we should institute a “loser pays” system of suing. That should make everyone think twice.
    Hi David–
    Agreed.  The only people who would object to your suggestion are the trial lawyers.  I wonder why?
    Cheers–
    MRE

  8. “If it all works out, however, don’t ask me to sell you any. One bout of regulation in this lifetime is more than enough for me.”
    Hmmm, how about hosting a huge charcuterie party? 🙂 Oh right, it’s about small production.
    Yeah, I watched the tainted spinach issue with interest, fully knowing that the attention was in the wrong place. Isn’t it interesting that “wild hogs” took the blame, instead of the feedlot beef where the E. coli strain originated? As I have learned more about the differences between pastured animal and feedlot/intensively confined animal production the past few years, I have also realized that vegetation production is another casualty waiting to fall, too. Bagged spinach is just the tip of the iceberg, I’m afraid.
    It isn’t always easy in the San Diego area & certainly isn’t cheaper up front, but I’m trying as much as possible to seek out local grass-fed beef & lamb (poultry is harder to find) for my family’s health & well-being, as well as to be part of the solution.
    Additionally, eating seasonally as well as locally reduces some of the risk of pathogens (at least they are easier to trace). Eating locally/seasonally is achieved easiest if I “know my farmer”; it has taken some time and inquiry, but I can now say I know my farmer for lamb, eggs, dairy, and CSA farm share vegetables (plus a few things I grow myself or swap with neighbors). A small local “German-style” CA-licensed butcher/meat processer doesn’t sell pastured meat (I’m working on changing that!), but they have encouraged me to buy a calf or hog from a 4H kid at the county fair in June. They will transport and process it for my freezer. That might be an option, especially if I can convince a friend or two to share in the purchase.
    Some friends find it incredible that I only go into a conventional supermarket a few times a year, yet we seem so “normal” or conventional (until I start talking about the glories of raw milk or homemade raw cat food ;-). Smaller stores like Trader Joe’s and the local natural foods market “fill in the gaps” for us, so there is rarely something in the mega-stores that I need or want. Good thing, because they have all remodeled; I get lost or can’t find anything!
    And if you do have a huge charcuterie party to show off your new skills, we’re within driving distance ! :-). But please do keep us posted on your new meat processing adventures, even if you don’t have tastes to share.
    Cheers,
    Anna
    Hi Anna–
    The books arrived today, and I am in the process of dragooning MD into deploying her culinary skills on my behalf.  As soon as we try something–the hard part is figuring out what to try first–I’ll file a report.
    Best–
    MRE

  9. The Charcuterie book says all the ground up stuff (sausage, primarily) can be made with a Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment or equivalent. I have one and it works pretty well.
    *But* when I wanted to make raw ground food for our cats, I got a larger dedicated grinder (comes with a sausage stuffer attachment). Wow, it is *much* faster than the Kitchenaid (about the same size but lighter), even when grinding raw chicken bones. And it is easier/faster to clean than the smaller Kitchenaid grinder attachment. So if you get into making a lot of sausage (or raw pet food), you might want to consider getting a better grinder (I have the Tasin TS-108, $185 incl S/H at http://www.onestopjerky.com, no affiliation).
    And I just found out that my local natural food store meat dept, which makes sausage on site, can sell me the natural sausage casings, so you might be able to find casings locally, too.
    By the way, if anyone is interested in getting their cat(s) off kibble (meat flavored cereal) or cooked canned food, a great website is http://www.catnutrition.org or http://www.catinfo.org. I highly recommend a raw diet instead of hi carb kibble or “enriched” cooked canned food, especially for obligate carnivores cats. My older cat was not doing well (8-9 yrs of various kibbles, then 1 yr of Wellness no-grain canned) and the vet said he had developed Chronic Renal Failure (elevated creatinine & urine gravity). After two months on a well balanced, homemade raw diet, the tests are in normal range and the cat is acting and looking years younger, even chasing his tail again and losing a few ounces (he was 18#). The vet is astonished (she has recommended against homemade and raw diets and wanted to put him on Rx low protein, high carb kibble). After all the changes in our family’s diet, it made sense to extend it to the cats, especially with the prognosis of the 10 yo cat. And it is far cheaper than the $3 of canned food/day we had been using, even when using the same high quality chicken we eat. The grinder will pay for itself in less than a year (plus I have a new charcuterie toy 😉 ).
    I think I’ll go fry some breakfast sausage & eggs!
    Anna
    Hi Anna–
    Thanks for all the info on the grinder.  MD had the big Kitchenaid Professional devise, so I’m sure we’ll start there.  I’ll keep everyone posted on how it all goes.
    I’ve never been able to understand why vets, of all people, recommend that cats, of all animals, should be fed low-fat, carbohydrate-laden cat food.  Cats, as you pointed out, are obligate carnivores.  We had the same kind of vet when we had dogs.  He warned us against feeding our dogs meat.  I briefly contemplated arguing with him, but finally figured, what the hell, he’ll never change.  So, we nodded politely and fed our dogs the same way we fed ourselves.
    Best–
    MRE

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