Government Control or Market Control?

On the final day, much of our time in class was spent participating in a debate regarding the control of food safety in America today. While reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivores Dilemma and In Defense of Food, our class learned a lot about the US government subsidy of corn production. Currently the government supports corn farmers in our country, but should the government also control the safety of food in our nation? Or should the economic market regulate food safety? Although this question may seem simple enough, there is no clear answer to this question.

The class was split into two equal teams with one team arguing for the economic market controlling food safety in America and the second team arguing for governmental regulation of food safety. Each team was given time to prepare opening statements and plan supporting arguments. As a member of the pro market control team, I helped to provide reasons why the economic market should be left to control food safety.






Introductory Arguments:

The pro-market team first presented opening ideas as to why the market should control food safety. The opening arguments included,

–       Companies will want a good reputation, so they will produce high quality products so that consumers will continue to buy their goods.

–       In a market regulated system, companies would not look to find “loopholes”, that are present in government laws.

–       Consumers would not have to understand the difficult legal terminology present in government laws.

–       Money that is currently spent by food companies to lobby for the creation of Congressional laws could instead be spent on creating safer food products.

In response, the team supporting governmental control of food safety stated,

–       The United States government was created to protect American citizens. It is the government’s job to control food safety so that public health is protected.

–       Companies only care about profit. Without regulation, companies will create the product that generates the highest profit even if it is unsafe for consumers.

–       The government must control food safety so that potentially dangerous compounds, such as pesticides and other chemicals, do not end up in the food supply.

After the opening arguments, a discussion commenced with one team making a statement followed by the second team making a counterargument. The first discussion topic raised was if government were allowed to control food safety, there would be loopholes in the law. Companies would be able to take advantage of these loopholes and create low quality food. In response, the pro-government team stated that if the economic market controlled food safety then there could still be loopholes.

The pro-government team used an analogy involving the air bags in a car to support their argument about the necessity of governmental law. In this analogy, the air bags symbolize food safety. Without government laws, there would be no uniform organization to inspect every car company to ensure that companies are inserting functional airbags into every car produced. In response, the pro-market team said that a consumer could do research to find out if car companies are putting safe airbags in their car. Thorough research, not governmental regulation, would make buying a safe car an easy process. If a car company received negative reviews for not inserting airbags in their cars, then a consumer should not purchase a car from this company. The government team ended this topic by asking how a consumer would be able to find reliable research without a standardized government system in place.

A reoccurring theme brought up by the governmental regulation team was that if the market were allowed to control food safety, there would be no government agencies ensuring that companies create safe food products. The pro-market team responded by saying that competition between companies would create a safe market for food products. If a company were putting unsafe food onto the market, consumers would buy food from a different company that was producing safe food products. Lack of business would put any unsafe companies out of business. This market rivalry would force companies to keep increasing the safety of their food in order to maintain customer support.

Under a government-controlled system, many new jobs would be created in governmental agencies. New employees would be necessary to help control the food safety in America by constructing new laws, testing for food safety, and enforcing any laws that are created. However, a market-controlled system would also create many new jobs. Competition among companies would put unsafe food companies out of business. This would also produce openings in the market for new, safer companies to form. Creating a new safe food business would produce new jobs for Americans in the development, testing, and marketing divisions of the food industry.

Post-Debate Analysis:

After finishing the debate, we took a quick poll to see how our personal opinions about food safety changed throughout the course of the discussion. Before the debate began, 14 members of the class supported governmental control of food safety and 2 classmates supported market control of food safety. After the completing the discussion, most of the students in the class believed that food safety should be controlled by a combination of governmental control and market control.

When the class analyzed the arguments that had been made, three questions emerged that had not been addressed in the debate. These questions were,

–       What would cause the market-controlled system to meet a minimum standard of food safety?

–       If a food company can save money by not lobbying for Congressional laws, what would make them spend this money on food safety instead of CEO salaries?

–       Where would our country find the money to create a government controlled food safety system?

A final question was raised from the debate. What exactly is food “safety”? Does “safe” mean that a food will not make a consumer ill or that it will not kill? A safe food does not necessarily mean that it is healthy, so how does health factor in to the idea of food safety? The class consensus reached was that food “safety” pertained to short-term wellbeing. A food is considered unsafe if it will immediately make a person sick. Other the other hand, “health” refers to the long term welling being of a person. An unhealthy food will make a consumer sick or ill in the long-term future if the food continues to be eaten.


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