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We’re Ahead of the Curve, So Regulate?

December 16, 2010

Fresh off yesterday, where I commented that auto safety was getting much better while government was whistling past the graveyard, here’s another fine example of the government being too late and then trying to claim credit, courtesy of Reason Magazine.

The Centers for Disease Control released new figures on the prevalence of foodborne illness in the United States. And there is good news. Previous CDC reports regularly estimated that 5,000 Americans died of foodborne illnesses and that 325,000 were hospitalized annually. The new CDC estimates find that 3,000 Americans die of foodborne illness and 128,000 are hospitalized.

So this is great.  But then you have to remember that Congress just passed a food safety bill based on the salmonella scare from earlier in the year.

The Senate passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act which gives the Food and Drug Administration dramatically greater power to regulate food production and distribution. Bouyed by the outbreak of salmonella in eggs earlier this year, the Act was supported by both activists and industry as a way to improve food safety, especially to reduce the incidence of foodborne illnesses.

So here’s a prime example of using the data in front of you as conclusive evidence that you must take a direction.  And all the while the real data behind it says that you’re doing fine.  I won’t argue trying to make things safer, but I wonder if the extra regulation really makes things safer or just more overseen.  Having more inspectors does make things more safe.  It just makes it more expensive.

When you compare this with Lynn’s comment about the rise in grocery store prices, and you have to wonder where this will go in the end.  Rising costs of regulation are among the reasons that food is going up, and I expect that the share of that will grow more.  In the end, this will create a more onerous process that just breaks the backs of the people it’s trying to save.

It’s tough to ignore the data in front of your face, but making snap decisions on the data without looking at the whole set is dangerous, especially in terms of the final results.

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