Thursday 18 November 2010

The Illiberal Licensing Racket yesterday reported on an armed raid directed at a Californian members-only club for having the temerity to sell food which customers actively show an interest in eating. The film below explains in full.

As the accompanying text rightly queries. Why?

[...] this particular raw foods case stretches across county lines and involves at least five separate government agencies, despite the fact that not a single member of Rawesome has complained or been harmed by the raw foods. In fact, members have to sign a contract stating that they understand and accept the risks of consuming raw foods before they are allowed to step inside.

If members of a private club sign a waiver stating that they want to drink a certain type of milk, why is the government getting involved?

State officials will claim that they are acting purely in the interests of public health; that it's vital to protect consumers from the scary consequences of eating and drinking substances which haven't been treated as government demands. But, again, if the customer has accepted risk to be able to sample something different, why is there any need for intervention, let alone one involving such an invasive show of force?

Well, I suggest a clue may lie in another recent American case involving a hot dog seller who is challenging the local authority's burdens on street vendors.

After months of unemployment, 57-year-old Steve Pruner decided to create his own job selling hot dogs in downtown Durham. Problem is, state laws and regulations called “onerous” by a Durham County health official have sidelined Pruner’s hot dog cart.
Again, the motive is protecting the public. But there is also quite a lot of money to be taken in the process.

Pruner never anticipated how much red tape would stand between him and the “American dream.”

Unable to build a box-on-wheels that satisfied city planners, Pruner ended up purchasing a “professional” pushcart for $2,500. Next, he set out to get a vending permit from the city, but found out he also would need to get a health permit from the county. Total cost: $150.

Before he could get a health permit, however, he’d need an inspection. To get an inspection, he would have to enter into a “commissary agreement,” requiring him to prepare his food, wash his cart, and store his supplies in a permitted restaurant or commissary.

Pruner claims it’s nearly impossible to convince a restaurant owner to enter into such an agreement, unless you are a friend or family member. Those who do make the agreements hardly ever honor them, he said.

“They’re supposed to go there every morning before they open and in every evening after they close, but no one does,” Pruner said. “It’s just a piece of paper. Once they get it signed, they’re cleaning their carts at home just like I did.”

Finding the rule an “undue restriction” on what he deems his “constitutional right to work,” Pruner chose to ignore it and to open his business — Outlaw Dogs — without permits about nine months ago.

Since then, the health department has tried to shut him down three times — first politely asking him to leave his vending spot, then issuing a cease and desist order and suing to have him declared a “public health hazard,” and finally having him jailed for 24 hours on Oct. 27.
The issue, of course, is licensing. It's not only a money-spinner for the authority, but also a perfect element of control which will curry favour with established businesses which are naturally keen to place barriers in front of new entrants to any particular market.

Try to circumvent the licensing system and the state will come down hard. Not only because they aren't able to add that new entrant to their revenue stream, but also because those already paying the licence fees will begin to rebel against having to pay themselves.

In my industry, transport, for example, there is a debate being held in many a local authority about what to do with such arrangements if and when councils attempt to join forces to cut costs. With transport being transient by nature, a business like mine can be licensed just about anywhere in the country which is favourable to them. The authorities are not concerned with how to go about the process safely, but more worried that it will be their own offices which may be denied the licensing aspect and revenue that goes with it.

As I've written before (and so has the UK Libertarian), there is no need for local authorities to be involved in food regulations at all - public health can be satisfactorily protected, and more economically so, if outsourced just like many other services - so why would the state be so keen to keep paying the cost of enforcement, unless ... it's not a cost after all?

Unfortunately, once a public is scared witless by imaginings of life-threatening diseases of the gut, they are quite happy to defend any ridiculous implementation of licensing. Even though all of it places a cost on businesses which will be passed onto them in higher prices, whilst simultaneously restricting their choice and denying them certain products altogether. Even if they are fully prepared to take the risk.


Bucko said...

Licencing - It's all about control.

My boss, before he got an office job, used to supply ready made vegitarian meals to restaurants.

He made them at home so had to have all the correct equipment installed in his kitchen.

He told me of a health inspection he once had where the inspector asked, "Where do you keep the meat?"

He didn't. He made vegitarian meals. Apparently he needed a designated space in the fridge and freezer for meat, and get this - a meat chopping board. The inspector had to tick these boxes before he could pass him.

He did win in the end after lots of explaining, as though to a two year old.

Fredrik Eich said...

I drank unpasteurized milk every day when I was a child - lovely Jersey milk. Yummy.

SadButMadLad said...

Licensing - It's never about public safety.

Licensing - It's all about closed shops.

Anonymous said...

Licencing .it's all about the guv's .....
Gangster speak ?

Dick Puddlecote said...

SBML: On the button. Licensor gains, vested interests gain. The public don't.

Shame that the public can't recognise that.

George Speller said...

Many years ago I saw a sticker on a farm Land Rover. It said "Save the green Top". I hadn't heard of Green Top milk, but figured if somebody was trying to ban it it must be worth having. It turned out to be raw unpasteurised milk. It is now only legal to supply it for doorstep delivery and not in shops and supermarkets. Yet still, after 30 years and several attempts by councils and "health" authorities to ban it, I drink it every day.
The lesson is: if they want to ban it it's worth having.

Ian R Thorpe said...

Years ago I was a market trader. My business did not sell food but I ate plenty of bacon and sausage sarnies, pies, cooked meats, bread et. from fellow traders who sold food from open stalls.

Then the regulators got going, most of those food stalls were put out of business and the marets became duller, less interesting places.

I don't recall there being any more fatalities from food poisoning then than there are now. It's a simple question of common sense. People would buy stuff that looked fresh or freshly cooked from stalls that looked clean.