Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

Mmm… Pie…

Posted by B_____ on January 31, 2007

Recently I read the following article in my local newspaper.

The article is about an Amish owned market that decided to sell custard pies and pumpkin rolls.  This angered the powers that be (in this case the county health inspector) because their means of production didn’t meet the required specifications for things like storage temperature and preparation.  It made me think about other things I’ve read recently.  One article was in the Washington Post and the subject was “raw” milk and how excited the Department of Agriculture got about the dangers of consuming non-pasteurized milk.  My father, while bald, doesn’t seem to have had any lasting problems due to his consumption of “raw” milk in his childhood. Another was about the Florida Department of Agriculture and some kind of ugly tomato that would ruin the reputation of
Florida tomatoes on the market.  

It hasn’t been until relatively recently that I’ve even considered the levels of government regulation involved with food production and distribution.  There’s a vast difference between the supermarket down the street and the Amish lady wanting to sell a custard pie to a willing buyer but there also isn’t much of a difference at all.  Both sellers have different business models, marketing strategies and needs but in the end it comes down to a voluntary transaction between two willing participants.  Does the voluntary transaction of a gallon of milk between two willing participants require federal, state and local regulation?  The answer is an emphatic “No!”

Let’s look at the stake holders of the two sellers.  On the one hand you have an Amish lady and perhaps her family.  On the other hand you have what is most likely a large corporation that is either privately or publicly held.  If Jane-Doe-Amish-Pie-Maker /Dairy-Farmer makes a mistake and someone gets sick, something that is still very unlikely, they assume a certain amount of risk for their faulty product.  Whether that risk is a lost customer, bad feelings or perhaps even compensation to the consumer of the faulty product then that is a risk they take.  Let’s say the same thing happens at your semi-local supermarket, again, an unlikely occurrence.  The same things can happen but their effects could be much larger.  Why was the product bad?  Was it a problem with the supply chain?  Was it a producer problem?  Its something that a company would probably investigate as much as possible to avoid negative publicity and financial losses from individuals seeking compensation and in that process getting an insurance company involved.  I could go on with scenarios but I won’t.  Think of how much business Wendy’s lost with the finger in the chili story. 

The point is that out of these problems multiple private arrangements can be made to satisfy the needs of the consumer and none of those private arrangements require any kind of mandate from the state on any level.  To those of you who love your local health inspectors think about it this way.  Would you rather go to a store that was doing the minimum to meet their imposed mandates or would you rather go to a store that was trying to do what it could to meet a standard set by grocers locally, grouped together or with some sort of insurance sponsored standard?  Is there even a difference?  Underwriters Laboratories and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety both do a fine job of protecting consumers without the need of bureaucracy and all of the garbage that entails.       


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