August 13, 2014

Entrepreneurs Against Arbitrary Food Rules

By: Connor Mabon

People Wait In Line For Food Truck Vendors

The fight to preserve and protect individual liberties has a rich history in America – much of it centered on food and the freedom to make an honest living.

Unfortunately, liberty today seems to have been placed on the back burner, where it’s been simmering below the boiling point of the national spotlight. But there’s an organization turning up the heat to give this issue the proper attention it needs.

In May 2014, the libertarian Institute for Justice released “The Attack on Food Freedom,” an extensive report as part of a multi-volume series of studies documenting the interconnectedness of food, economic liberty, and the right to make an honest living.

In fact, the birth of our nation was a result of this connection. Responding to America’s growing wealth from its agriculture industry, the British imposed arbitrary and absurd rules on American colonists prompting a revolution to occur and a subsequent change to the status quo.

That wasn’t the end of dubious food regulations.

As the report indicates, we’re again experiencing a revolution throughout the nation where ambitious entrepreneurs are mobilizing to revitalize our stagnant economy through food, at least trying to.

Across all levels of government there are strict regulations stifling competition in the free market governing food policy. These laws, according to the report, fall under three key categories: overzealous food safety regulations, bureaucratic hoops, and regulations pertaining to the “new” public health.

At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration was able to expand its oversight authority in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act in an effort to implement a regulatory model based on prevention methods rather than simply responding to contamination.

In doing so, the regulations failed to adequately consider the financial burdens that would be placed on small farm operations, which don’t have the capacity to shoulder the costs of meeting the new standards. The agency is holding these small farms, which rarely, if ever, use industrial equipment, to the same standards as nationally focused farms that do.

FDA admitted during an open comment session the “success” of the rules would translate, at best, into a 5.7 percent decrease in foodborne illness nationwide. Interesting how it’s actually these modernized factory farms that have a more deplorable track record of food safety issues than farms using traditional methods.

The negative impact of arbitrary government regulation on food freedom and economic liberty goes well beyond the farm. Over the past several years, city streets throughout America have become yet another battlefield in this food revolution.

Food trucks have taken the nation by storm and their ever-growing presence has lawmakers scrambling for an appropriate response to this “Wild West mentality.”

In major metropolitan areas like Chicago and Washington, D.C., there are rampant incidents of protectionism immobilizing food trucks. These local laws targeting food trucks often fail to withstand even the slightest taste of scrutiny.

A 2012 IJ study debunked “myths” created by brick-and-mortar restaurants, business improvement districts, and certain lawmakers in an effort to dismantle food truck credibility. Among those myths are claims that food trucks are unsanitary, they’re harmful to a city’s restaurant industry, they cause harmful sidewalk congestion, and they have an unfair advantage over conventional restaurants due to their mobility.

After examining more than 250,000 health inspection reports from seven major US cities in an “apples-to-apples” comparison, the institute found mobile vendors “outperformed restaurants” averaging 1.8 total violations to restaurants’ 4.3.

This is where lawmakers should direct their attention. Stifling competition by protecting certain businesses while heavily regulating others is not the proper role of government. Fines for parking within 200 ft. of a brick-and-mortar restaurant can reach up to $2,000, ten times higher than parking in front of a fire hydrant.

Numerous cases regarding this kind of protectionism have been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment protecting Americans from “arbitrary and irrational laws that interfere with their ability to earn a living.” Lawmakers, as the institute suggests, should instead concern themselves with public health issues that arise from poorly managed food destinations and regulate accordingly.

With our economy still as fragile as it is, we should be embracing the food truck movement. It captures and reinvigorates the essence of the American entrepreneurial spirit. Food trucks are job creators from those on the truck to the people responsible for building and designing them. They have the ability to transform downtown areas by offering something new and exciting.

Laws unjustly favoring one business model over another, whether it’s restaurants and food trucks to nationally focused farms and more local operations, should be repealed.

Ending protectionist policies will allow entrepreneurs to enjoy the freedom to pursue their dreams and make an honest living.

Follow Connor Mabon on Twitter. Food truck image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.