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Food Policy: A Conversation with Baylen Linnekin

Helen Timothy
February 2, 2021

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On-Demand Webinar: Food Regulations 101

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GMOs, FSMA, and menu labeling are all hot topics in food policy and regulation. To further discuss the latest updates, we sat down with Baylen Linnekin, leading food policy author and attorney.

Q: What is your take on “natural” labeling and advertising claims? Do you think things like this should be regulated, or better yet, more specific in regulation?

Linnekin: This is properly a matter for the courts. If someone believes an “all-natural” label has harmed them—e.g., the label tricked them into buying something by what they believe is a misleading label—then they should sue. The FDA should stay out of it. Instead, the FDA should permit any food label so long as it contains the required information—including an accurate list of ingredients—and doesn’t contain demonstrably false (fraudulent) statements.

Q: Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say things like, our “food freedom is under attack”?

Linnekin: I define food freedom as an individual’s right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of their choosing. Federal, state, and local government officials—both elected and working in regulatory agencies—threaten this individual right.

Many cities restrict a person’s right to plant a garden in their yard or share food with the homeless and less fortunate. States have banned foods and food ingredients—from foie gras to raw milk. The federal government subsidizes farmers who grow some crops (i.e., corn and soy) and bans farmers from growing others (e.g., hemp). And it’s cracking down on foods that contain salt, caffeine, trans fats, and other ingredients. The list goes on.

If the government were to restrict our speech—what comes out of our mouths—in the same way it does what we put into our mouths, we wouldn’t hesitate to say that free speech is under attack. That’s why I say food freedom is under attack.

Q: With so many recent food recalls, how would you suggest food manufacturers prevent these issues while also not requiring additional regulation?

Linnekin: The U.S. food supply is remarkably safe. That’s thanks in large part to the nation’s farmers and food manufacturers. The threat of harming consumers and consumer confidence—not to mention the lawsuits and calls for increased regulations that arise when such harm occurs—should be incentive enough for food companies to seek to prevent these issues from appearing. But not all food regulations—even newer ones—are bad. I support the FDA’s mandatory recall authority under FSMA for many reasons, including because I think it makes lots of sense given the FDA’s original mission to protect food safety.

Linnekin serves as an Independent Legal Consultant and Expert with Keep Food Legal, Adjunct Professor at George Mason School of Law, and Food Law and Policy Columnist for Reason.

TraceGains webinar, “Food Regulations 101,” covers the basics of food regulations, so companies don’t have to struggle to learn them the hard way. Watch the on-demand webinar here