More than any other day of the year, families by the millions will give thanks today for America’s abundant and affordable food supply. The impressive bounty on display contrasts sharply with claims that more stringent federal regulations are needed to ensure food safety.
Despite the fact that America’s food supply is superior to every other in the world, legislation now pending in the Senate would grant vast new powers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate how food is grown, processed, and sold. Underlying the power grab is the irrational notion that only government can protect us from food-borne illness and that it is somehow capable—given enough authority—to eliminate all health risks.
But zealous faith in regulatory omniscience is woefully misplaced. Science and technology, not government regulation, have actually delivered the greatest advances in food safety. Market forces such as competition, brand-name value, monitoring by financial markets, and common law are also powerful drivers of food safety. Moreover, the FDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have repeatedly blundered in their pursuit of zero risk.
It was the FDA, for example, that once endeavored to eliminate all “carcinogens” from the food supply—the assumption being that any trace of potentially cancer-causing chemicals in food products was a result of human folly. To prove the virtue of their costly regulatory crusade, government officials cited the cancer rates of lab rats inundated with synthetic chemicals.
Of course, scientists subsequently discovered that plants produce some 10,000 “natural” chemicals that would likewise prove carcinogenic if ingested at super-high doses. Indeed, as noted by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), “carcinogens and mutagens are everywhere in Mother Nature’s own food supply,” including the Thanksgiving table, as the ACHS “menu” details:
- Roast turkey (heterocyclic amines)
- Cranberry sauce (furan derivatives)
- Sweet potato (ethyl alcohol, furfural)
- Rolls with butter (acetaldehyde, benzene, ethyl alcohol, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl carbamate, furan derivatives, furfural)
- Pumpkin pie (benzo(a)pyrene, coumarin, methyl eugenol, safrole)
In fact, auditors have concluded that the FDA has systematically failed to apply scientific principles to its regulatory policies, which have effectively rendered its actions futile bureaucratic exercises. That’s hardly an endorsement for even greater regulatory authority.
The alarmism underlying the anti-chemical crusade now pervades the campaign for more FDA powers (at an unpalatable cost of $1.4 billion). But contrary to the rhetoric espoused by proponents of the “FDA Food Safety Management Act,” the nation’s food supply has never been safer—incident rates of food-borne illness have actually been declining for more than a decade.
As we gather around the table today, we can be thankful for our remarkable food supply. And we can hope that misguided regulations will not further encroach on the farmers and food manufacturers who—notwithstanding unwarranted claims—provide us with such great quantities of safe food with which to fill our refrigerators and cupboards.