EDITORIAL

Alternatives to the FDA

Consider the idea of free-market rating agencies, such as Underwriters Laboratories, Yelp.com, Consumer Reports, credit rating agencies, kosher food labeling, etc. Altogether, these agencies do pretty good jobs helping consumers with the safety and quality assurances that they require for a wide array of products and services. Note that they do not force their products or services on others, and that as a measure of their market approval, they are in demand. That’s required for them to stay in business.

On the other hand, the FDA is a non-market rating agency, and except among the political class, its activities are not in high demand. That’s because they don’t do a very good job. Nor do they have to, because they can force companies to bear the high costs of compliance—despite unnecessary personnel, protocol, equipment, and paper work—through threats, fines, and jail sentences. These costs can destroy companies that can’t afford what, in many instances, are sheer cases of overkill. Without the overhanging threat of police force, few would go along, but that doesn’t mean that they would not subscribe to safety and quality assurance services. Most consumers want safety assurances.

The FDA is generally out of touch with the least costly and most efficient ways to achieve real safety, not to mention the fact that everyone places a difference value on safety. Furthermore, it simply has no incentive to bring costs down—to do so would disempower the agency, and cause unemployment within it. Like the Transportation Security Administration, the FDA appears to want 100% safety at whatever the cost. But that is unrealistic and impossible to achieve. Providing 100% safety is not an essential role of government. In fact, safety is only the proper role of government when it comes to the use of force and fraud.

Notice that the FDA is always complaining that its budget is not big enough. But in this new era of heightened fiscal responsibility and downsizing the government, especially when it comes to non-essential activities like the fantasy of 100% safety, why not give them some competition for increased safety by letting consumers decide. This could be done by defunding the FDA’s continuing foray into “food safety.”

The flames of the recent ruse for the great dangers of salmonella-containing eggs were fanned by the FDA, which did not recommend chicken vaccination as is the case in the U.K., and which is already being done by as many as half of U.S. producers. “Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” it has been said, and the egg publicity helped push the new Food Safety Law through Congress in December. This gave the FDA 8 new powers, along with the expense of hiring 2000 new FDA inspectors. Eggad!

Defunding the FDA’s lurch forward is a good idea, and would give rise to more salmonella-checking free-market rating agencies, given that consumers want to be assured that eggs to not contain salmonella. As things are, America has the safest food system in the world. For any safety issues of this sort, there would be high consumer demand for other safety service, since few buying food, supplements, or medicine for that matter want to get sick or die, so it would be a profitable industry attracting competition. If we had many “FDAs” competing for our trust, then whenever we find out that one goes corrupt, it could be reported, and people would begin to prefer alternative rating agencies instead. Defund the FDA!

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