Mises Wire

Big Agriculture's Protectionism Targets the Amish

The raid on an Amish family farm is the direct result of government protectionism of big agriculture through needless and cumbersome regulations.

Amos Miller is an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania who has become a thorn in the side of the State of Pennsylvania and the federal government for his selling of raw milk and other unregulated products. Miller first came to the attention of the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 when they claimed his milk was linked to several cases of listeria bacteria causing listeriosis in individuals who drank raw milk. Their dispute continued until 2023, when Miller was forced to pay out $30,000 and continue to pay out $305,000 in fees levied by a judge following federal lawsuits.

Conflict has resumed as the Pennsylvania attorney general announced it would be suing Miller to halt his production. It claims that Miller has continually refused to submit to the health standards levied by not only the state but also the federal government. They claim that he continues to endanger public health, even as Miller claims he is only serving a small private group of buyers. Not wishing to offer an uninformed legal opinion on this matter, it is worth noting that this is part of a growing trend.

Since the 1930s there has been continual decline in the number of farms in the United States. The acreage total has only slightly declined. This might be because of the greater productivity of larger farms, especially with improved fertilizing methods, but it could also be due to regulation. In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the first of the famed “Farm Bills.” This bill continues to be passed every five years, benefiting large lobbyists who get subsidies and special regulations.

Regulation, like that being levied against Miller, usually has its roots in cronyism rather than legitimate public interest. Murray Rothbard famously tackled this in reference to the “beef trusts” that are cited in the early 1900s. These trusts faced competition from smaller competitors, and after The Jungle was published, they jumped on the bandwagon of regulation to quash competitors. Rothbard writes:

Shortly after The Jungle came out, J. Ogden Armour, owner of one of the biggest packing firms, wrote an article in the Saturday Evening Post defending government inspection of meat and insisting that the large packers had always favored and pushed for inspection. Armour wrote:

Attempt to evade it [government inspection] would be, from the purely commercial viewpoint, suicidal. No packer can do an interstate or export business without Government inspection. Self-interest forces him to make use of it. Self-interest likewise demands that he shall not receive meats or by-products from any small packer, either for export or other use, unless that small packer’s plant is also “official”—that is, under United States Government inspection.

This government inspection thus becomes an important adjunct of the packer’s business from two viewpoints. It puts the stamp of legitimacy and honesty upon the packer’s product and so is to him a necessity. To the public it is insurance against the sale of diseased meats.

Government meat inspection which also lures the public into always thinking the food is safe and reduces competitive pressures to improve meat quality.

He adds later:

The large meat packers were enthusiastically in favor of the bill, designed as it was to bring the small packers under federal inspection. The American Meat Producers’ Association endorsed the bill. At the hearings of the House Committee of Agriculture on the Beveridge bill, Thomas E. Wilson, representing the large Chicago packers, put their support succinctly:

We are now and have always been in favor of the extension of the inspection, also to the adoption of the sanitary regulations that will insure the very best possible conditions. . . . We have always felt that Government inspection, under proper regulations, was an advantage to the live stock and agricultural interests and to the consumer . . .

One advantage to imposing uniform sanitary conditions on all meatpackers is that the burden of the increased costs would fall more heavily on the smaller than on the bigger plants, thereby crippling the smaller competitors even further.

Regulation is a mighty tool for larger lobbyists to wield against their competitions. It is not unlikely that large milk producers would favor many of these burdensome regulations because they would harm their competitors. Forcing smaller farms like that of Miller to comply with the regulations imposed by a bureaucratic institution is an easy way to increase costs and force them from the market.

Health is very much still a concern in the marketplace, but with properly applied tort law it will work itself out. If one’s product hurts a consumer, they can be held liable for it. This makes businesses take extra care with their products. They further get insurance for cases of extreme accidents. Those insurance companies apply restrictions and codes that must be followed, while at the same time providing coverage. If the state of Pennsylvania cared for public health, they would deregulate the insurance markets and halt harassing farmers. Apply tort law properly and the market will find a way.

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