The FDA has proposed rules limiting the levels of E. coli in irrigation water used to grow foods that are eaten raw—including onions. Sounds sensible enough since no one wants to consume potentially deadly bacteria. But there’s a catch—more FDA regs are not needed to keep consumers safe from infected onions.
Sellers already rigorously test onions and other produce. What’s more, there’s no evidence that onions are contaminated by E. coli through irrigation water, according to research findings from scientists at Oregon State University. But the regulatory overreach doesn’t stop there.
The FDA is also insisting that onions be hauled in plastic crates instead of wooden ones to prevent E. coli from spreading. Once again, the FDA is way off base, as the Manhattan Institute’s Jared Meyer explains in the Washington Examiner:
Thankfully, OSU researchers decided to test the merits of this rule as well. They filled new, bleached plastic crates and two-decade-old wooden ones with onions and then tested them for E. coli. No traces of the bacteria were found on the onions from the wooden crates.
Instead of regulating nonexistent problems, the FDA needs to stop imposing unnecessary costs on farmers and consumers. Replacing a million wooden crates with plastic ones would cost about $200 million — money that could have been invested, creating more jobs, instead of wasted. Plastic crates hold only about half the weight of wooden ones and cost nearly three times as much. Additionally, produce storage buildings would need to be remodeled because the plastic crates are smaller and need more air circulation.
Higher costs of onion production would mean that Americans would have to pay more for onions, a staple of American cooking. That would add to everyone’s grocery bills, disproportionately affecting the low-income Americans who spend a higher percentage of their earnings on groceries.
This is the sort of thing that happens when government bureaucracies need to justify their ongoing existence—not to mention increasing their budgets. Accurate, reliable information that Americans could use to make informed purchasing decisions is sacrificed to political agendas. A better policy approach would be to have independent researchers provide such information—much like Consumer Reports already does. That way, Americans would have information we can trust at a price we could actually afford.