Reforming the Republic of Food Safety Science
Who decides which food and food processes are safe? Who decides what food safety research will be federally-funded and food-safety regulations mandated?
Georgia State University climate scientist Judith Curry’s Climate, Etc. post excerpts from Michael Polanyi’s essay “The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory (pdf).” Curry explains:
Polanyi provides an interesting perspective from the mid 20th century, as the U.S. and Europe were contemplating massive public investments in science. Polanyi’s perspective was colored by his early years in Hungary, which led him to oppose central planning in the sciences.
I encourage you to read Polanyi’s entire essay, it contains many interesting reflections on history and political philosophy of science. Below are some some excerpts with highlights that provide the springboard for my own reflections on the state of science (particularly climate science) in the early 21st century.
Stoa debaters can substitute federally food safety research for federal climate science research to apply Curry’s post to the agriculture debate topic.
Polanyi’s “Republic of Science” essay argues that supply and demand can better coordinate effective scientific research than politically-directed funding from government agencies.
WHAT I have said here about the highest possible coordination of individual scientific efforts by a process of self-coordination may recall the self coordination achieved by producers and consumers operating in a market. It was, indeed, with this in mind that I spoke of ‘the invisible hand ‘ guiding the coordination of independent initiatives to a maximum advancement of science, just as Adam Smith invoked ‘ the invisible hand ‘ to describe the achievement of greatest joint material satisfaction when independent producers and consumers are guided by the prices of goods in a market.
University of Buckingham’s Terence Kealey argues for decentralized and privately-funded scientific research in this Scientific American interview, “The Economics of Science: Interview with Terence Kealey.”
Relevant reforms for the agriculture/food safety topic, would be to reduce or eliminate federal government funding for agricultural research, and to transfer responsibility for food safety research to non-government organizations.
As earlier posts have discussed, food safety standards are a moving target. As technology improves to monitor and measure food safety, independent food safety standards need to follow. Walmart’s insisted on higher food safety standards for its suppliers with the 2007 “Walmart Letter”:
The letter, which was sent to all suppliers of its private label and other food products, such as produce, meat, fish, poultry, and ready-to-eat foods, stated that the retail store was requiring that the producers “have their factories certified against one of the internationally recognized Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards.” Suppliers were given until the end of 2009 to adhere to the GFSI framework—or stop doing business with Walmart. (Source.)
The new standards significantly reduced food safety problems:
… an internal Walmart study analyzing the impact of GFSI certification on product recalls. When recall data for 208 manufacturing facilities, including 81 food manufacturers, was deconstructed into two categories: pre- and post-GFSI, there proved to be a 34% reduction in recalls and a 21% reduction in withdrawals. As noted in Walmart’s Food Safety Report, “the results suggest that a food manufacturer that achieves a GFSI-recognized certification is significantly less likely to experience a food withdrawal or recall.” (Source.)
The article notes that the later federal government Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was, for Walmart suppliers, just playing catch-up to existing private food safety certification:
With their focus on risk assessment, preventive controls, and monitoring, as well as the specific produce standards, the requirements have also enabled Walmart suppliers to be more prepared for the coming regulations of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). As Yiannas said, “If you are a Walmart supplier, it is likely that you are already in compliance with FSMA.” (Source.)