First, some state and local government officials started challenging the power of the federal government to limit the uses of land owned by the federal government. Then, the Utah Legislature voted to exempt guns made and sold in Utah from federal firearms regulations. Now, at least one member of the Utah House is pushing legislation that would exempt the state from the first serious upgrade of federal food safety rules in 100 years.
What's next? Opening fire on Fort Douglas?
The hearty and independent souls who live in Utah might think that the feds don't know how to manage their own land. They might deny that the American idea of gun control is by far the most feeble in the civilized world.
But Utah farmers, and Utah consumers, should think twice before they ask their Legislature to protect them from Congress' long-awaited attempt at drafting 21st century food safety laws. Any attempt to do so will taint the quality of Utah meats, poultry, dairy products and produce in the eyes, if not the stomachs, of the nation and the neighborhood.
At this writing, Rep. Bill Wright has not put specific language to the handful of bill files he has opened, bills with titles like the "Small Meat and Dairy Producers Protection Act." But he has explained that his goal is to make sure that a newly passed federal law, the Food Safety Modernization Act, does not interfere with Utah farmers and ranchers and, especially, the small operations and farmers markets that have found crucial new niches in direct-to-consumer sales.
There is much to recommend the trend toward local food. It is good for the farmer, the consumer and the environment. But to suggest that shooing federal inspectors out of Utah would assist this trend ignores that the consumer's incentive is not nostalgia or sympathy for the family farm.
The so-called locavore movement is based on the belief that food from nearby operations is of higher quality than that found shrinkwrapped on the shelf. For Utah to go out of its way to exempt its farmers and processors from new federal rules that will greatly enhance safety, and thus consumer confidence, would seriously undermine that helpful image.
Utah does have its own food inspection services, which work in tandem with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. They should continue to do so and, if the details of the new regulatory system turn out to be onerous as Wright fears, report that to the Legislature.
Until then, the last thing the Legislature needs to do for the Utah farmer is give him a national reputation as a food safety scofflaw.