I wonder whether both Minister Kate Wilkinson and the bill's critics couldn't both be right. If the current de jure rules aren't strenuously enforced against small traders, or only are so irregularly, then the de jure loosening of restrictions on small traders could be a de facto toughening if enforcement is tightened.
Radio New Zealand last week featured one small cheese producer on the costs of the prior regime and her worries about the new one. Minister Wilkinson's comments there really aren't reassuring. [HT: Gonzo] She emphasizes that even small-scale cheese-makers will come under the regulatory apparatus:
The cheese that's produced from three cows or three thousand cows is still expected to be safe. ... We want the Biddies [cheese-maker Biddy Fraser-Davies] of this world to keep producing fantastic cheeses, but we also want that cheese to be safe.But let's recall that the vast majority of costs of food-borne illness are the individually borne intangible costs of being sick. Those costs are very real and the Applied Economics study tabulating them seems pretty sound. But why oughtn't I get to choose to buy cheese from a small producer and take that individual risk without Wellington getting involved? The costs of head injuries from skiing may well be high, but if I'm the one bearing them, oughtn't I be the one who decides to wear a helmet? Wasn't this supposed to be the government of individual responsibility that defeated Helen Clark's Nanny State?
Wilkinson worries about ensuring that people can be confident in the local food system. If information asymmetry is the problem, all the government needs to do is give out stickers to producers wishing to produce under regulatory guidelines so that they can advertise as such; absence of that certification then says you have to be sure you can trust the producer. And, anybody who's paranoid about food poisoning can always choose to purchase from big producers at supermarkets instead of small guys selling home-made stuff at farmers' markets. And, frankly, I'll trust Biddy Fraser-Davies, the small cheese producer interviewed, over Wilkinson's bureaucrats.
I wrote for NZCPR:
Perhaps worse than my potential loss of choice as consumer is the loss of an easy pathway to small-scale entrepreneurship. Even if the monetary costs of registration as a food producer are low, Wellington often weighs too lightly the discrete hurdle thrown in front of a potential entrepreneur who has never otherwise had to worry about compliance regimes. The dread costs of figuring out which forms to fill out, and the fear of getting something wrong, can be very real barriers to would-be new small-scale entrepreneurs. When you’re really not sure if you’ll be able to make a go of a new venture, adding a hurdle of having to seek permission can provide a burden much larger than the nominal $50 registration fee.Muriel Newman at NZCPR (link currently here, but likely to suffer linkrot) also comments:
For a government that claims to be committed to encouraging wealth creation and reducing compliance costs on small business, the Food Bill could be a major step backwards. It appears to be being driven more by bureaucratic considerations rather than the need to encourage entrepreneurship in the food sector - within the bounds of stringent food safety imperatives. It is also not clear what the answer is to a fundamental question that should be asked of all new legislation: Is there a problem to be fixed and if so will this Bill fix it?At least raw milk doesn't seem likely to be killed under the new bill.