Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Regulatory Capture: Perverse Government Regulation

“Regulatory capture” is what we call a situation in which an industry has taken practical control of a government agency and used it to serve its own – rather than the public’s – purposes.  This has happened to varying extents with most Federal agencies (say, the FCC and FEC).  Few industries, however, have managed to do it to the extent that the meat industry has done it.  There are, literally, shelves full of books on this subject, but a recent court decision upholding a USDA decision boils it down for us:

A federal appeals court says the government can prohibit meat packers from testing their animals for mad cow disease. Because the Agriculture Department tests only a small percentage of  cows for the deadly disease, Kansas meatpacker Creekstone Farms Premium Beef wants to test all of its cows. The government says it can’t.

Larger meat companies worry that if Creekstone is allowed to perform the test and advertise its meat as safe, they could be forced to do the expensive test, too.

Yes, the agency charged with ensuring your meat is safe has been used to ensure that no one is allowed to voluntarily test all of their meat for safety, because it might turn out that the public wants it.


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  1. I tend to think this is one of the natural outcomes of govt regulation. I’ve seen time and time again how business interests and big govt get intertwined and the symbiotic relationship is perpetuated by protectionism and other means of force. When I worked at the FCC I saw major abuses of this and precisely why I do not think the govt is capable of protecting us like so many of my neighbors do.

    Btw, you missed a good time in Clarendon last night

  2. MB

    So rather that fix an institution that has previously demonstrated its ability to serve the public interest, you’d just abolish it in favor of those that have a demonstrated commitment to work against it.


    Clarendon? Someone had a good time and didn’t invite me? Man.

  3. how would one go about fixing a bureaucracy? typically it’s by adding more layers of red tape which in turn spirals the problem even further. sure, if we could come to an agreement where GS workers could get paid based more on merit than seniority it would improve some things but I think there is a fake notion that if the USDA were abolished that meat companies would all of a sudden start selling us poisoned beef and consumers would do nothing about it. I think we both agree we want standards and labels on our food but the question is who is best able to perform that duty?

    as far as clarendon, check your unread text messages. next time!

  4. MB

    Well, I’d first fix it by taking it out of the hands of those that believe that it’s inherently incapable of functioning. The Republican approach presumes a broken government is the natural state of things, and then they put people in charge to make sure it stays broken. I think we’ve got a pretty good track record of that in the present administration, no?

    As far as the “fake notion” that meat companies would start selling bad meat, well, I think there’s plenty of evidence that they already do on a regular basis. Are you saying that we should replace current USDA testing with “the market”? How many dead consumers a year do you think it would take until “the market” decided to move away from a particular company’s products? How would we know about these deaths?

    As to standards and labeling – that’s exactly what you’re pushing back against here, no? Or are you saying that a meat company’s own standards and labeling should be good enough, and if they prove to not be (again with the dead people), we’ll just move to another one? Have you seen the structure of the meat industry in America?

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