Stossel's Meat 'Shortage' Post-Mortem

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Whether you sometimes had to do without meat during the height of the pandemic -- or found yourself going to the store at ridiculous hours like I did -- you might want to mosey on over to one of John Stossel's recent pieces. Within, he explains how this happened in a wealthy nation in which it is impossible to drive through the countryside without seeing cattle.

And yes, if you suspected it is due to regulations in one way or another, you were correct to do so. In this particular example, meat inspection -- which for decades involved a technique that could spread disease -- is the major culprit:

Image by Kurseong Carl, via Wikimedia Commons, license.
Today, USDA inspectors do a better job. They test for bacteria. But the inspection process is so cumbersome and expensive, many small companies can't afford it.

The result, complained President Joe Biden recently, is too much market concentration: "Four big corporations control more than half the markets in beef, pork, and poultry!"

His remedy, sadly, is to give your tax money to some smaller meatpackers.

Of course, such subsidies and regulations increase market concentration.
Stossel's suggested remedy -- of allowing small packers to sell after state inspections -- does not go as far as I would, but it would make the supply chain less brittle.

That said, it is as needless for the government to require this common-sense measure as it is wrong for it to issue rights-violating orders to individuals in the form of preventative law.

I would have been happier had Stossel noted that no rancher or meat processor wants a reputation for sickening or killing customers: There are ample selfish, profit-seeking motives to support an entire competitive and profitable private industry in food safety inspection and certification. (Underwiters Laboratories is an example from a different sector.)

And such an industry probably wouldn't have taken almost a century to get past the ridiculous "poke and sniff" method the government foisted on us in the name of saving us from ourselves and "greedy" businessmen who somehow don't understand that dead, dying, and sick customers are bad for repeat business.

-- CAV

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