Government exists to safeguard the People, their freedoms, and their common interests. The primary role of government is to defend the People from foreign military threats and criminal elements, but the responsibility of government to the nation and the People includes more than obvious threats to life and liberty. Government is also responsible for creating a stable, prosperous economy that ensures the People have access to affordable, quality, and safe goods. When it comes to the food supply, people are particularly sensitive about the role of government and industry practices, because it is an issue of life and death.
A pending $5.7 billion lawsuit by Beef Products Inc. (BPI) against ABC News over its reporting on “pink slim” demonstrates how serious the food industry is when it comes to reputation. Looking at the potential US-Mexican Sugar Pact and the fight to secure the US sugar supply, sugar producers place a great deal of pressure on government to safeguard their market shares and the viability of their industry. The interests of the industry are not, however, necessarily always those of the US government and the American People. Americans share the long-term interest of maintaining viable industries, but the government’s responsibility of ensuring safety and a secure supply of goods trumps industry interests.
In the case of “pink slim,” the regulatory role of the government is to protect consumers from meat products that might contain harmful pathogens as well as other hazardous contaminants, including toxic chemicals. Government also has an interest in fostering consumer choice, which means protecting and promoting industry transparency. From the slaughtering to the processing of animals, nothing is pretty about how meat is prepared, especially on a mass scale. Because it is also easy to cast the food industry in a negative light, libel laws play a role in protecting meat producers when they are attacked based on the unpleasantness of their industry alone.
For its part, the Press exists to provide oversight of government and industry, which is why members of the Press enjoy enhanced First Amendment protections. It is irresponsible for journalists to exploit the unpleasantness of the meat industry to target legitimate business practices for the sake of a story. When it comes to transparency, however, the media does, and most, play a proactive role. In turn, the government must protect journalistic oversight, even when industry finds it inconvenient and damaging. In regards to “pink slim,” assuming it is safe to consume, the American People should always be aware of what they are consuming, so they can make informed consumer decisions, which ensures the health of the food industry.
In regards to the competing interests of US sugar suppliers and foreign owned suppliers, there are two competing sets of interests at stake. The sugar industry needs to maintain a price that ensures the variability of sugar production, i.e. it cannot cost more to produce sugar than to buy it. This is an interest all industries share with government. The US government and the American People have an interest in accessing the global sugar supply. Doing so allows American consumer to enjoy the benefits of lower prices as well as the reliability and quality of globally sourced products.
Under the sugar pact, there are a number of mechanisms to control how much and what kind of sugar can enter the US market, which creates an overly complex and inefficient compromise that taxes the sugar market. Free trade sugar deals alone are not likely enough to protect the viability of the US industry, but a trade pact that relies on tariffs to maintain prices and balance subsidies, instead of other more cumbersome protectionist measures, would allow the sugar market to function more efficiently without catering to the especial interests of the sugar industry, thereby maximizing the benefit to US consumers. Moreover, the balancing of competing interests is a way for government to play its role in the food industry and fulfill the interests of the American People, which are the only interests of government.
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