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The Food Regulators


The Senators’ legislation violates individual liberty, and it creates a gateway for more government intrusion into our lives.

When a new Rasmussen poll  asked the question about trust in government, 56 percent of those surveyed said that the federal government is a threat to freedom. The poll finds that more voters than ever view the feds as a threat to our individual rights. Big government is impossible to monitor and the bigger the government gets, the more it should be distrusted. Big government as bad government is one of the most important lessons of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scandal.

The size and reach of the federal government is sobering, and its reach extends far beyond just spending and taxing. Overregulation distorts the market place, costs the economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually, and – as we have witnessed with the IRS misbehavior – threatens our individual rights. Wayne Crews of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has recently published his perennial examination of the regulatory state – Ten Thousand Commandments. His study shows that the cost of federal regulations is now more than half the size of the federal budget. We are besieged by a regulatory state that gives unelected bureaucrats power over the intimate details of our lives, including – if Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have their way – the food we put on our kitchen tables.

junk food

The Senators have introduced a seemingly innocuous amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill that will require the Secretary of Agriculture to implement two state pilot programs to eliminate the purchase of unhealthy foods and beverages under the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formerly known as food stamps). However, if the precedent is set that the government on the basis of public health has the authority to dictate the food choices of the poor, we start down a slippery slope of the feds regulating the diets of all Americans.

Limiting the growth of the entitlement state is a worthy public-policy endeavor. However, creating a government program that interferes so deeply in the personal choices of millions of Americans is decidedly bad policy. Some politicians might support this kind of interference because it’s an effortless way to show voters that they’re being good stewards of taxpayer money. On the contrary, the Coburn-Harkin proposal will result in an arbitrary, expensive, and loophole-laden food bureaucracy that will expand the size and cost of government.

What the proposal will require is a “naughty and nice” list for the foods we eat. If Coburn-Harkin becomes law, the American people will be facing a food code mimicking the complexity of the IRS tax code. Bureaucrats will have to analyze and categorize the 300,000 food and beverage products on the market now and the additional 15,000 food items introduced every year. Coburn-Harkin is not entitlement reform, and it is not going to make Americans any healthier (as if that’s the government’s business anyway). The Senators’ proposal is nanny-state, big government at its worst.

CEI’s Anti-Democracy Index measures the “ratio of regulations issued by agencies relative to laws passed by Congress.” Last year, 29-times more regulations were finalized by the federal government than were laws passed by the Congress. Coburn-Harkin will delegate food policing to unelected bureaucrats. It will require a new, expensive bureaucracy, and its regulations will have a chilling effect on the free market. Such regulations, like a government stamp of approval, will lead to more attempts to ban or restrict certain foods as we’ve already seen in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Tea party activist Becky Gerritson offered heartfelt testimony this week before the House Ways and Means Committee on the IRS abuses and harassment. Gerritson said: “I’m not here as a serf or a vassal. I’m not begging my lord for mercy. I’m a born-free American woman, wife, mother, and citizen, and I’m telling my government that you’ve forgotten your place.”

Senators Coburn and Harkin have forgotten that the American people – even America’s poorest people – are not subjects of the federal government. We can decide for ourselves what is healthy or unhealthy. The Senators’ legislation violates individual liberty, and it creates a gateway for more government intrusion into our lives. The American people are outraged at big government run amok at the IRS. We’ll be just as outraged at the food police run amok. Let’s stop them now before they start.

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