Regulating away organic food
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Former Senator John Sununu writes in the Boston Globe on how the fight to regulate organic food artificially concentrates the industry into the hands of a few agribusiness giants.
Many of them mistook federal rules as a way to keep standards high and the corporate world out. In reality, the federal stamp of approval helped big companies control the entire space. Local farmers might win the battle over sludge, but they would lose the war once power was firmly in the hands of a national regulator. Deciding what is allowed in ostensibly organic foods is easily the most important thing the National Organic Standards Board does, yet the list of allowed additives keeps getting longer at big farm companies’ request.
All regulators want to be efficient; many want to be liked. That makes them subject to influence by those they oversee. Regulators solicit endless input on questions ranging from how to organize the bureaucracy to what new rules should say. Inevitably, the biggest fish in the pond are best positioned to influence their regulators. It’s called regulatory capture, and the likelihood of it should always be part of the debate.
Pushing back against the regulatory tide isn’t about favoring big business; it’s about containing the power of the state. Just because something is a good idea (organic farming), doesn’t mean it should be a law; and just because something should be a law doesn’t mean it should be a federal law. Obsession with turning every good idea into law has also given us federal bans on two-gallon toilet flushes and Edison’s incandescent bulb. The winners of this Washington micro-management have been the biggest plumbing and lighting manufacturers in the country.
Big business loves regulation. Government can regulate competition away and protect established firms from the threat of a free market. Professor Bruce Yandle refers to the counter-intuitive alliance of Bootleggers and Baptists.
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