Hamburger Series, Part 4: Food Regulation

One Complicated Sandwich

Who regulates our food?  Who regulates which foods?  More importantly, perhaps: why?  Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulate our food, but the division is shockingly arbitrary.  Pepperoni pizza, for instance, is regulated by the USDA, while cheese pizza is regulated by the FDA.  The FDA regulates a ham sandwich with two slices of bread, but the USDA regulates open-face ham sandwiches.

The very idea of a sandwich “made with bread, ham, cheese, lettuce, and tomato raises regulatory issues of terrifying complexity,” says Marion Nestle, in her book Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism.

The addition of vegetables such as lettuce and tomatoes throws the Environmental Protection Agency into the regulation mix, whose job it is to control the production of agriculture–as if a sandwich needed more guidelines.

Cheese, a sandwich staple, further complicates our tasty snack.  That wholesome individually wrapped yellow square of Kraft cheesiness cannot truly be called cheese.  It is, in fact, more accurately, a laboratory creation labeled by the FDA as “process cheese product.”  This term postdates the previous term “cheese food,” which was deemed misleading to the consumer in 2002 by the FDA.  Somehow, a grilled process cheese product leaves much to be desired.  A ham and process cheese product panini simply does not appeal.

What is the reason for all the complexity surrounding our food regulation?  Is it meant to keep us healthy?  Despite the absurd amount of regulation, we still encounter problems when tomato consumption, for instance, leads to salmonella outbreaks.  We are seemingly unaware of the fine print indicating the nuances of processed cheese.  We must question the reasoning for the convoluted FDA and USDA regulatory efforts.

Before taking a bite of a ham and cheese sandwich, take these things into consideration: thanks to all of our nation’s tortuous food regulation, the lettuce and tomato are free from harmful pathogens, as is the meat, and for those who enjoy the details, the cheese packaging will tell you not only if you are eating real cheese, but even from where it came.

-Jordan Wondrack, Ethics Design Team

About Quinn, Rebecca Claire

STU UnGrad
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2 Responses to Hamburger Series, Part 4: Food Regulation

  1. Quinn, Rebecca Claire says:

    Should our food not be exempt from such bureaucratic distinctions? Can we trust our food with reform? If we grow it ourselves, we can avoid regulation, or can we? Does the USDA regulate home gardens in some way–seeds?

  2. Drew Konow says:

    As a general rule, I tend to see government bureaucracy, especially that of the perplexing and nonsensical sort, as being the means of covering something up. The seemingly arbitrary bifurcation of regulation, I surmise, has deep roots in lobbying and lengthy bills that characterize many Congressional decisions. Besides the fact that there may be something fishy underneath these divisions, they may also present logistical mishaps and oversights. Like you mentioned, breakouts of salmonella and other public health issues concerning food need to be addressed swiftly and with preventive structures. If the mire of separation between USDA and FDA cannot be clearly understood, then our national reactions to these public health issues are likely to be equally confused and poorly executed. One could conclude that such bureaucracy is created just so that it can take the blame when the oversights are executed.

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