Do You Know Where Your Eggs Come From?

By Mark T. Mitchell for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

According to the latest reports, more than half a billion eggs are being recalled in an attempt to thwart the outbreak of salmonella apparently emanating from an egg factory in Iowa.  The FDA, of course, has promised an aggressive investigation that will doubtless be followed by hearings and more regulations to protect the American people from their food. This expansion of the regulatory state is really the only option when a) food production is centralized and therefore beyond the knowledge of nearly all who participate in the current food system, and b) when the first instinct of citizens is to look to the federal government to protect them from all harm.

The alternative is to decentralize food production. For example, my wife and I buy eggs from a man down the road. He keeps fifty or so hens and supplements his income with a little egg business. Once every week or so, we stop by his house and knock on the door. He invites us in where we chat for a minute or two while he gets a dozen fresh eggs from the refrigerator. He loves to talk about his chickens and I’m happy to listen. He takes great delight in his birds and cares well for them–I see them each time I pull into his driveway. I trust him. And I trust that the eggs we buy from him are safe. Our personal relationship, born of proximity, makes government regulations unnecessary. If I ever concluded that he was mistreating his chickens or creating an unsafe environment for the production of eggs, I could, armed with that knowledge, find another source of eggs.

Furthermore, if it ever happened that his eggs were contaminated with salmonella, the “outbreak” would be easy to contain. Only a few families would be effected. No CDC would be needed to trace the eggs through a massive industrial system. In short, the threat would be contained because the production is of an easily managed scale.

A decentralized food system or a centralized regulatory system backed by the power of the state.  These seem to be the two options.

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