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Toxic Regulation

David Schoenbrod, a former Natural Resources Defense Council litigator, was prompted to write an article based on his friends’ experience with the Federal Department of Agriculture’s decision to ban the sale of unpasteurized apple cider.

Schoenbrod had focused on getting federal agencies to protect public health in the 1970s. Although he still wants the health of Americans to be protected, he feels that sometimes regulation discourages initiative and creativity.

The FDA had decided to regulate all producers of all fruit juices after an E. coli outbreak in Odwalla fruit juice. Regulation affected small cider makers, since the pasteurization machines cost anywhere from $25,000 to $70,000. The cheaper machines obviously affected the end taste of the product, which in turn would be disastrous for small cider makers who pride themselves on the quality of their small-batch products.

In addition, customers at the smaller cider mills complained, saying that they would stop buying small-batch cider if the mills pasteurized. They could get similar-quality product at grocery stores, they said.

Various prototypes of alternate sanitizing procedures resulted in an ultraviolet device, but that was eventually rejected by the FDA in favor of a more obstructive device. It was an alternative to pasteurization, but was still expensive.

Large corporations are able to keep lawyers on retainer to fight issues with the FDA and EPA – smaller cider mills don’t have that luxury. In time, smaller fruit juice companies such as Odwalla was bought out by Coca-Cola; Naked Juice is now owned by Chiquita Brands. Eventually, even his friends’ cider business had to endure the bureaucratic process of regulation and legislation – they eventually got a sanitizing machine, and are considering making some of their cider into hard ciders and ice wines. Of course, that takes more paperwork and inspections.

Schoenbrod understands that agencies like the FDA and EPA favor large corporations and try to push small companies into becoming parts of larger bureaucratic organizations so they can be better controlled. The sad result is that small business owners have less individual initiative, have less creativity, and the resultant work is less enjoyable and less fruitful. He feels disheartened by the outlook.

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