Is USDA an 'out-of-control muenster'?

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted September 4, 2000

Bureaucrats have a funny way of envisioning the "free market."

In recent years, the nations of Europe (with the partial abstention of Britain, an island whose most prominent newspaper once ran the famous headline "Fog Blankets Channel, Continent Cut Off") have put their bureaucrats to work, figuring out how to "open their borders to trade."

Mind you, this is a good thing -- America became an economic powerhouse in large measure because there is no import duty for Michigan automobiles entering Tennessee or Texas. Till recently -- see "The War on Drugs" -- American travelers also never had to worry about being stopped and asked for their "travel papers" upon crossing the border from Pennsylvania to Ohio -- nor from Arizona to California, for that matter. If the Europeans have finally seen the light and wish to similarly liberate the movement of goods and people across their continent, more power to them.

But the European bureaucrats couldn't merely tear down the barbed wire and tollhouses between Martelange and Bigonville and say "Good luck." Oh no. Private buyers and purveyors couldn't be left to their own devices to settle on standard sizes, as the 19th century American market managed to pretty well standardize the size of light bulbs, electric plugs, and automobile lug nuts. What would that leave for the bureaucrats to do?

So in Europe, special committees have busied themselves for years now, setting "standards" which each commodity must meet in order to move in "free market" trade -- the most hilarious example being the recent dispute between the French and Italians on what shall be the "standard" sizes for male birth control devices, the details of which (including predictable acknowledgments that perhaps on the other side of the border some smaller sizes might be in order) probably need no further explication in a family newspaper.

At any rate, Americans have long laughed at such typically continental folderol -- when not actively hissing that Teutonic Gestapo man as he moved through the passenger car, asking Dame May Whitty for her "Papers, please."

But perhaps we laughed too soon.

Swiss cheese: Get out the tape measure
Get out the tape measure

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a new 15-page set of regulations, proposing that in order to gain the agency's "Grade A" rating, Swiss cheese shall henceforth be required to display holes with an average diameter of three-eighths of an inch -- down from the eleven-sixteenths-inch standard established back in 1987.

"Something smells here, and it isn't the Limburger," comments George Getz, press secretary of the Libertarian Party in Washington. "It's these federal bureaucrats who think they should be able to tax, regulate, mandate, subsidize, prohibit, and micromanage every area of our lives -- up to and including the size of the holes in our Swiss cheese. ... Americans don't need Monterey Jack-booted thugs from the USDA messing with our Swiss cheese."

Indeed, private brand names -- for which families and corporations invest decades and small fortunes establishing good will -- are the best guarantee of the wholesomeness of our foods. Historian and former Gorbachev economic adviser Yuri Maltsev recalls that the Soviet Union used to have a "Ministry of Vegetables," which so far as he knew never planted a single vegetable.

Nor, so far as I can determine, has a single tomato ever ripened behind the concrete facade of the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.

It is past time to "reform" the USDA. The Constitution grants the federal government no power to "regulate, mandate, or subsidize" our very food.

Abolish it.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and editor of Financial Privacy Report (subscribe by calling Neville at 612-895-8757.) His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available by dialing 1-800-244-2224; or via web site

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