This entire regulation/food safety mess is part of the shambles left from the ideas of the Progressive Movement of the early twentieth century.  The Progressives were concerned about the growing influence of corporate power, just as many of us are today.  Their position has been stated, somewhat over simplified as--if business is allowed to consolidate its economic and political power to a degree that harms the public then there must be a counter power, government, to balance corporate power.
Perhaps many still believe this, but I would like to point out two problems with this point of
view.   The first problem, as I see it, was experienced by the Progressive Movement as they tried to put their theory into practice.  On one side there were those in the labor movement like Samuel Gompers who argued against industrial monopolies.  They felt that the proper role of government was anti-trust actions that would break up monopolies and restore the competition between smaller companies.  On the other side of this argument were Progressives like Teddy Roosevelt who felt monopolies were both desirable and even inevitable.  They felt that the economic might and efficiencies of scale of these companies were a source of benefits, even if they would sometimes abuse their power.  For Progressives of this belief governmental regulation was the answer.  Thus creating our regulatory framework of today.
We have now had roughly 100 years of government attempting to "balance" corporate power by some combination of these methods.  The result has been greater and greater concentration of economic power with greater and greater control of government by corporate interests.  Anti-trust is a dead issue, the regulatory Progressives have clearly won that fight.  The number of our elected representatives who truly doubt that 'bigger is better" could meet in a compact car, or perhaps a mini-van.  But we do have a vast number of regulatory agencies, and how do we judge their success?  Millions of cases of food borne illnesses, tens of thousands of dead pets, no interest in real testing of GMO's, Bernie Madoff--you know that I could go on and on.  The second problem, simply stated, is that regulation, like anti-trust, has not worked.
But, but, but ...regulatory agencies don't have enough tools to do their jobs say those who still follow the line of the the regulatory Progressives.  But haven't we all witnessed small players, such as those who seek to sell and consume raw milk, subjected to aggressive government tactics without evidence that they have hurt anyone?  Or the Michigan farms "depopulated" of animals based on the "suspicion" of TB?  Doesn't it seem that the forces of social control use much stronger means on the poor and powerless than the corporate monopolies?  I thought that the theory was that regulatory authority protected the weak from the powerful.  And so I must judge the call that more power is needed to be hollow and the promise of regulating monopolies to protect the people to be a failure.  When I judge these efforts as failing it is not a failure of the available laws that I see but a failure of will, of the willingness to make government the balancing tool that the Progressive Movement envisioned.
Here I hope that I can give brief precautionary history about those who believe "bigger is better" and that government regulation can solve the problems of agriculture.  If you hold on through this rather depressing story I promise a proposal to address the problems I have raised.
In 1928 a top government official addressed his country with the following words.."Agriculture is developing slowly....This is because we have 25 million individually owned farms. They are the most primitive and undeveloped form of economy. We must do our utmost to develop large farms and convert them into grain factories for the country organized on a modern scientific basis".   These are the words of Joseph Stalin.  With these words began the collectivization of Russian lands that would result in death for 3-7 million peasants who resisted (In China some years later similar plans killed 20-30 million more).  Before you reassure yourself that this could not happen here, read Stalin's words again.  The view that small farms equal inefficiency and large ones equal modern science echo in every ag school in this country.  And remember also the sneer on Earl Butz's face as he said "Get big or get out!".
To the Progressives 100 years ago there was no conceivable counter power to the corporations besides government.  Maybe they were right about the conditions of their time, hard to say.  But some things have changed in the last 100 years and some means are available now that were not available then.  We live in what we call the information age.  I would like to suggest that with a basic change in the way we see the responsibilities of both corporations and government there are ways to promote safety and and there is a force that can limit cooperate power and influence without an expensive regulatory bureaucracy and far better than they have ever done.  My suggestion is that a part of corporate responsibility is transparency--complete transparency, a free flow of information to all consumers.  If the federal government is expected to protect their patents, enforce their contracts, negotiate trade deals with other countries for their benefit, and most of all if the American people are to provide their sons and daughters to die for their overseas profits, then we have a "right" to know everything they do, no exceptions.  And the government should protect our right to this knowledge.    And the balance that will be placed on the power of the corporations, the force that will punish them when they are bad and reward them when they are good will be the good judgment of the American people, judgment nourished by information and with the help of many new institutions along the line of Consumers Reports, Kelly Blue Book, investigative reporters etc. etc.  Imagine CAFO movies on cable, and they think Omnivores Dilemma hurt profits.
For more about this idea see
I'll close with this--
     "If we are to hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action.  We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. we are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and put those fragments back together in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods.  We need better government, no doubt about it.  But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities.  We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own."
Wendell Berry
I simply can not say it better than that.  Thank you for your time,
Jim Moses

If you would like to access a searchable archive of the all the previous Mich-Organic listserv postings copy this URL and paste in your browser address field