Last month the Food and Drug Administration exercised its authority to ban contaminated foods for the first time when it seized from a Washington State plant spices and condiments that had been exposed to rodents and insects.
It makes eminent sense that Kellogg would appeal to Congress to protect the food supply. Public structures underwrite many industries so that consumers can buy with confidence. Drugs, air travel, automobiles, toys, and countless other products and services are willingly purchased without worry by consumers who believe that government protects them from irresponsible purveyors such as the Peanut Corporation of America.
Likewise, providing public goods and performing functions that individual parties cannot be expected to provide is recognized across the political spectrum as a proper role for government. That’s why we have transit systems and bridges paid for with public funds, as well as public universities, courts and police and fire departments. Our system of safeguards, on which Kellogg and so many other producers depend, is currently under attack, already threatening progress in food safety. The House Republican majority has voted to thwart the new food safety agency by withholding funds for its implementation. The Senate has acted to maintain Department of Agriculture funding, including funds for the new agency. The issue is still in limbo. Two other pieces of legislation, the so-called REINS Act, and the Regulatory Accountability Act, contest the value of regulation at more general levels. They would greatly impair the already complex regulatory process by adding layers of Congressional oversight for which the Congress is poorly staffed, and requiring analysis of the costs of regulation without regard for the benefits that would accrue.
The current campaign against our system of safeguards is single-mindedly focused on reducing regulatory requirements on businesses. But as the heads of the Kellogg Company and other food and consumer producers surely know, we are best served by a balanced approach to regulation that protects the health and safety of people and the environment at the same time that it recognizes the needs of business interests.
Michael Lipsky is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos.