There are few objects more simple and elegant than an egg, but you’d never know that from the Byzantine way the government regulates America’s favorite breakfast food.
Politico recently published a hard-boiled exposé, peeling back the shell on the way eggs are regulated by the federal government. What they found was a scrambled bureaucracy cracking up over hard questions of jurisdiction and delegation of authority.
There are as many as 15 agencies charged with regulating America’s food supply. In addition to the ones you’ve heard of, like the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture, there are the lesser known Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food and Safety Inspection Service, and the Agricultural Marketing Service.
Which of these agencies does what is not an easy thing to keep track of, even for federal bureaucrats. As long as an egg remains in its shell, the FDA has jurisdiction, but questions of shell quality are decided by the Agricultural Marketing Service. Once it’s time to eat the egg, the Food Safety Inspection Service takes over. This doesn’t even include concerns over diseases like Salmonella (regulated by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) and what chickens must eat to ensure maximum egg quality (FDA again.)
With all this bureaucracy in place, you would think that we would have the safest eggs in the world, with few ways for government to fowl things up, yet there remain about 100,000 cases of egg-borne illness a year. Part of the problem is that the agencies, perhaps due to fear of having their authority poached by rivals, tend not to share information with one another. The result is that important facts about inspections incubate in isolation rather than getting communicated to the appropriate parties..
Curt Levey, Executive Director of FreedomWorks Foundation and its regulatory reform project, commented,“This inefficient, duplicative, and inconsistent patchwork of regulations we see in the food industry is typical of what we’ve come to expect from federal regulators. Bureaucracy piles upon bureaucracy, bringing less safety for consumers, not more. Leaving food safety to the industry or the states, instead of continuing to vest that authority in federal agencies lacking both competence and constitutional authority, would be a much better way to achieve the safety and accountability Americans want.”
Food regulations in general are an endless source of examples of federal incompetence, but the obvious silliness of egg regulations in particular should be enough to ruin anybody’s sunny side up disposition.