Saturday, 13 August 2011

We don't know how lucky we are... (a continuing series)

Kiwis often rightly complain about bad regulations here. But they too often assume that America is better. And so I like occasionally pointing to regulatory insanity in the States.

Item the First, courtesy of Radley Balko:
A few years ago, Kris Swanberg, having been laid-off from her job as a Chicago Public School teacher, remembered she received an ice cream maker as a wedding gift. TheChicago mom fished it out of her kitchen cabinet and eventually started a new career. Today Swanberg’s Nice Cream — on offer at local Whole Foods and farmers markets — is considered a star of Chicago’s rich and beloved artisanal ice cream scene, one that could be shut down entirely by state rules, she recently learned. She says that a couple of weeks ago a representative from the Illinois Department of Public Health came to Logan Square Kitchen and informed her she’d have to shut down if she did not get something called "a dairy license." Swanberg and others in her field had operated for years now without ever hearing of such a thing and, indeed, they say, the City’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, to whom they applied for business licenses, never informed them they would need one to operate. To get this license Swanberg wrote, in an email, she would have to:
  1. "Work out of our own space. Currently we work out of the Logan Square Kitchen."
  2. "Have our product tested once a month for bacterial levels."
  3. "Change all of our packaging and labels to meet state standards."
  4. "Purchase a pasteurizer, which from what the state tells me will be about $40,000 or use a pre-made ice cream mix."
... Although the state is focusing on Swanberg first, other artisanal ice cream makers in Chicago are concerned they might be next. "I have to be worried. I am in too deep to cut my losses now," said a fellow ice cream maker who asked that her name not be used. "This is my life and passion, so I don’t want to be shut down. "Our biggest thing is wondering whether or not there is a way, considering the organic and local food movement, to change the regulations so that small local producers are not being regulated in the same ways as massive creameries — I mean, this is what they enforce for Haagen Dazs." Indeed, IDPH confirmed that these small operations are governed by the very same rules that apply to billion dollar ice cream companies. And although Illinois recently passed the The Illinois Local Food Entrepreneur and Cottage Food Operation Act, (currently awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature) which suggests that the different sets of rules should govern tiny food operations and giant corporations, the bill does not apply to ice cream. Until she gets her license, Swanberg says she must stop putting product on the shelf. She hopes to meet with her fellow ice cream makers to figure out a plan that can allow them to deliver the same quality while abiding by state rules.
Here, I can buy beer at local farmers' markets that's brewed in a guy's garage and small batch organic yogurt from guys who I really doubt had to get a freaking dairy licence to make it. And where the US sends armed police squads, guns drawn, after folks selling raw milk, here organic raw milk sales are booming (though still under constraint) and (except for the armed offenders squad) our police are unarmed.

Item the Second: US nutritional/calorie regs on chain restaurants may wind up killing consumer choice at Dominos. Because large chains have to post calorie counts for every menu item, and because Dominos allows wide variation in toppings on pies, the number of potential calorie count items gets rather high. Go back to your stats text and read the section on permutations and combinations.
As Klein points out, a lot of the big corporations that the administration targets with these regulations completely miss the mark and end up saddling small business owners like the people who own Domino's franchises. Klein quotes one franchise owner who worked his way up from his job as a pizza delivery boy in the 1980s to owning four Domino's franchises in Maryland. The franchises average about 40k a year in profit. The new menu regulations could cost as much as $4,700 a year to maintain the new menus. "There are so many different things that I have to do right now that are just completely unnecessary that take away from our profits," the franchise owner tells Klein. "When does it end? When does this stuff end? Just give a small business guy a break and let me take care of my customers and take care of my people."
We don't know how lucky we are in this country.

But Peter Thiel does (first couple minutes):

From abroad, America looks increasingly like a boot stomping on a human face.


  1. Think Diplomatic Protection Squad and Special Tactics Group are also routinely armed.

  2. Yes, but we are talking Illinois here. There are few states that are less business-friendly in the Union. I suspect Wisconsin may not be as draconian.

  3. @KPP I remember flying in "Airforce One"—a Bombardier Q300— with John Key from Rotorua to Wellington. I think there are few places where you can share a small plane with the Prime Minister and a tiny protection squad.

  4. Comments re the above dairy licence requirements...

    1) Silly rule, no reason why a shared premise can't meet proper sanitary requirements.
    2) I have no problem with this, any responsible food producer probably ought to be getting their product tested routinely, and dairy products are a perfect growth medium for many pathogens.
    3) In 2 minds about labelling requirements. A list of ingredients should pose no problem for small producers, but testing for a full nutritional breakdown of each product might not be viable, and some leeway is probably appropriate.
    4) Why not find a source of pasteurised milk, and use this to make ice cream mix, or arrange to share pasteuriser time with existing equipment elsewhere? Again, there are reasonable food safety reasons why ice cream mixes might benefit from pasteurisation, but mandating that small producers purchase expensive pasteurisation plant seems draconian. However if rule #2 is met consistently one could argue that rule #4 is unnecessary.

  5. @KPP: They're not the ones we'd typically meet in town...

    @Blair: Likely. Ruger and Sorens do have a nice index of freedom across the states...

    @Luis: Any fun chats?

  6. Think their national anthem will be changed to read "O'er the land of the free*, and the home of the brave, but government regulations do apply."?

  7. @Eric not really, we are talking about John Key!