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In a Pickle Over Regulations

Sizes of whole pickles are based on the diameter and the relationship of diameter to the count per gallon. Size designations, applicable counts, and diameters are outlined in Table II of this subpart. The diameter of a whole cucumber is the shortest diameter at the greatest circumference measured at right angles to the longitudinal axis of the cucumber…

We often complain of “Big Government” in the abstract—a tangled assemblage of bureaus, departments and offices in and around Washington, D.C. But sometimes it helps to zoom in on the details. Pickles, for instance.

Recently I showed how big government turned two words of a hastily passed law in to 850 pages of regulations. All of those pages are stored in the massive Code of Federal Regulations. The CFR is a compendium of every rule and reg ever concocted by the federal government, from soup (9 CFR 319.720) to nuts (21 CFR 164.110). And despite being incredibly important to businesses big and small, it doesn't make for very enjoyable reading.

Reasonably good color in cured type means the typical skin color of the pickles ranges from light green to dark green and is reasonably free from bleached areas. Not more than 25 percent, by weight, of the pickles may vary markedly from such typical color. In mixed pickles, chow chow pickles, and pickle relish, all of the ingredients possess a reasonably uniform color typical for the respective ingredient. The pickles and other vegetable ingredients shall be free of off-colors…

As of 2011, the CFR was a whopping 169,301 pages. That’s about 150 times the length of the Bible. If the CFR were compiled into one volume, the book would be 55 feet thick.

The first three years of the Obama Administration added 11,327 pages to the CFR – a 7.4 percent increase. Now that President Obama has started his second term, he’s widely expected to create many more new regulations covering everything we eat, drink, touch and feel.

(m)  Misshapen pickles mean whole pickles that are crooked or otherwise deformed (such as nubbins). Also see the definition for crooked pickles.

(n)  Nubbin is a misshapen pickle that is not cylindrical in form, is short and stubby, or is not well developed.

What do these regulations look like? I pulled one at random: 7 CFR 52.1681-1692, or the “United States Standards for Grades of Pickles” written by the Processed Products Branch of the Fruit and Vegetable Division of the Agricultural Marketing Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

You are actually paying a team of bureaucrats to mandate that a "small gherkin" must be less than 2.4 cm in diameter, whereas a "large gherkin" can have a diameter of up to 2.7 cm. They also wrote all the technocratic gibberish sprinkled throughout this post (I left out the diagrams illustrating excessive pickle curvature).

Every government program has its defenders. I’m sure that the lowly USDA workers think they’re protecting innocent citizens from the rapacious schemes of Big Gherkin. But remember the humble pickle when politicians insist that there is nothing left to cut out of Washington’s gargantuan budget.

For every one of your tax dollars funding something essential, there’s a barrel full of bills funding a bloated, wasteful beast. A beast that smells suspiciously like misshapen pickle nubbins.

Follow me on Twitter at @ExJon.