Written by Hans Bader
In Reason magazine, Baylen Linnekin writes about “the sickening nature of many food-safety regulations,” like the “poke and sniff” inspection method mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture “that likely resulted in USDA inspectors transmitting filth from diseased meat to fresh meat on a daily basis.”
Thousands of deaths from foolish food-safety regulations have occurred in other countries. A classic example occurred more than two centuries ago, when regional parliaments banned consumption of the potato in much of France. “Among the host of diseases the government mistakenly attributed to consumption of the tuber was leprosy.” This ban was particularly problematic because at the time, France was plagued by recurrent famines.
French officials banned the potato despite the fact that it had been widely cultivated and consumed for generations in neighboring Germany, where the potato saved the populace from starvation during the Thirty Years War of 1618 to 1648. (Many German villages that refused to cultivate the potato died out and became ghost towns due to mass starvation during the Thirty Years War, as marauding troops destroyed or confiscated above-ground crops such as wheat. Villages that grew the potato survived. Emulating the Germans, hungry Europeans finally began eating the potato. The result was that “for the first time since the Little Ice Age began, 300 years before, Europeans became healthier, were better fed, famines were averted, and populations began to rise again. For example, over the next 200 years, the Irish population tripled.”)
The Obama administration earlier foolishly banned white potatoes from the federal WIC Program, under the theory that they aren’t healthy enough. But in reality, potatoes are perfectly healthy: they have more Vitamin C than a banana or an apple, are rich in essential minerals, contain all 8 amino acids (unlike most other staple foods like corn), and are not fattening. Only the potato, which produces much more food per acre and more cheaply than other staples, saved Europe from endemic malnutrition, and made the industrial revolution and massive population growth possible.
Places that failed to cultivate the potato, like France, experienced growing malnutrition and famines, contributing to the French Revolution. Staple foods other than the potato proved inadequate to feed Europe’s hungry people. Villagers in Europe who lived mostly on corn were mentally stunted due to Vitamin B3 deficiency, to the point where such a condition became known as “Italian leprosy” or “Italian cretinism” due to its prevalence in certain districts of northern Italy. But Irish people who lived mostly on potatoes survived, with their mental faculties intact, until the Irish potato famine destroyed their potato crop.
Federal bureaucrats and Michelle Obama would like to curb salt intake, even though federal restrictions on salt could backfire and increase death rates. “The Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines still consider salt Public Enemy No. 1, coming before fats, sugars and alcohol,” notes health policy researcher Gary Taubes in a New York Times op-ed. But “eating less salt can worsen health outcomes.”
Four “studies — involving Type 1 diabetics, Type 2 diabetics, healthy Europeans and patients with chronic heart failure — reported that the people eating salt at the lower limit of normal were more likely to have heart disease than those eating smack in the middle of the normal range.” They have failed to learn humility despite the federal government’s many past nutritional mistakes, like the carb-heavy “food pyramid” that promoted eating habits linked to obesity (a “surge in diabetes accompanied the government’s switch to the politically-inspired Food Pyramid”).
Linnekin’s article was occasioned by the bureaucratic log-jam resulting from Congress’s passage of the “Food Safety Modernization Act.” CEI biotechnology expert Greg Conko has criticized that law, which will “leave tens of thousands of small and mid-sized farms and food stands to be crushed under the weight of rules designed for some of the world’s largest food processors.” Absent regulatory exemptions, the new law would drive “out of business local farmers and artisanal, small-scale producers of berries, herbs, cheese, and countless other wares, even when there is in fact nothing unsafe in their methods of production,” said legal commentator Walter Olson.
Even as the federal government demonizes salt, it simultaneously subsidizes the development of high-calorie foods that benefit politically connected agribusinesses. The Obama administration spent $766,000 of your tax dollars to open an International House of Pancakes in an urban area, despite IHOP’s sugary fare. In short, the government does not know how to distinguish between “good” and “bad” foods.
The government’s foolishness regarding food safety and public health is one more reason not to give it control of our healthcare system, the way the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision on Thursday did. Obamacare will harm the health care system. The Dean of Harvard Medical School, Jeffrey Flier, noted that Obamacare will reduce life-saving medical innovation. Obamacare is also causing layoffs in the medical device industry.
Senior Attorney and Counsel for Special Projects
CEI's Counsel for Special Projects is Hans Bader. Coming to CEI in 2003, Hans's prior casework has included suits involving the First Amendment, federalism, and civil rights issues. He graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in economics and history, and later earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School. Just before joining CEI, Hans was Senior Counsel at the Center for Individual Rights.