The Constitution does not delegate the federal government any authority to regulate food safety. Nevertheless, the feds attempt to enforce one-size-fits all regulations on everything you eat and drink. They claim talk about safety, but in truth, their regulations often have nothing to do with protecting you and me.

In a recent video, we showed four ways the federal government interjects itself into the realm of food safety and the negative consequences of these policies. While claiming to “protect you,” these federal laws and regulations often do more to protect big corporate food producers to the detriment of independent farmers and small food companies.

The experience of a small company that produces an eggless vegan mayonnaise, Just Mayo, shows just how big corporations and cartels run by the feds coordinate to crush competition. A report by Joseph T. Salerno on the Mises Wire reveals a nasty effort by egg producers helped along by a cartel run by the USDA to force the vegan mayo producer out of business.

Documents released last year under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the American Egg Board, a compulsory cartel of egg producers supervised by the USDA, attempted to destroy small start-up Hampton Creek, producer of Just Mayo. The  Egg Board is one of several commodity checkoff programs that are designed to promote commodities such as eggs, beef, pork, mushrooms and soy. These programs are funded by mandatory fees levied on all producers of the commodity — whether they wish to participate or not — and their budgets and activities are supervised by USDA. The boards are legally barred from using their funds to attack competitors or influence public policy.

Despite rules prohibiting the Egg Board from using their power to attack competitors, they did it anyway. When Just Mayo hit the selves, Egg Board president Joanne Ivy sounded the alarm in an email to all members.

“What are we doing at AEB with regard to this competing product?  We need to have an answer.”

It wasn’t long before the USDA got into the act. Government officials wrote Ivy to suggest they could challenge Just Mayo’s labeling claims through the FDA.

The AEB also hired a “sustainability contractor” to lobby Whole Foods to remove Just Mayo from its shelves. Whole Foods did not comply. Finally, the AEB worked covertly with Unilever, the $150-billion consumer products giant and the maker of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, to quash Just Mayo. Unilever filed a suit against Hampton Creek alleging that Just Mayo  was not really mayonnaise because it was eggless. The suit was withdrawn by Unilever a few months later.

Obviously, none of these actions have anything to do with keeping consumers safe. It serves as a prime example of how big businesses work in cahoots with these massive federal agencies to create advantages for themselves, crush competitors and ultimately limit the choices of consumers.

Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have introduced a bill in Congress to stop these types of shenanigans. But as usual, we should not count on Washington D.C. to solve a problem created by Washington D.C. The powers that be will fight passage of this legislation. And even if it does pass, in all likelihood, it will only slap a band-aide on the problem. Salerno digs right down to the root of the problem – and the solution – get rid of these unconstitutional agencies.

Unfortunately, the bill introduced by Senators Booker and Lee is a futile gesture that will not ensure that commodity checkoff programs are not illegally misused by the industries involved. For as economists and historians have shown, in case after case since the 1880s, government regulatory agencies were invariably “captured” by the industry they are supposed to regulate and were induced to assist the industry in setting up compulsory anti-consumer cartels. The real problem is not that the laws are too vague in specifying the functions and purposes of these agencies and their programs, but that the agencies exist at all. For it is the US government itself through its legal power to regulate and intervene in economic activities that is the fount of all monopoly privileges, corporate welfare, and anti-consumer practices.

And while it’s unlikely that the federal government is going to eliminate part of itself, there is a blueprint to successfully reject and resist such programs.

Image via Mark H. Anbinder, Flickr. Used under a CreativeCommons 2.0 license

Mike Maharrey

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