voluntary regulations, regulatory exceptionalism, E. coli, state regulation, agricultural standards, food safety, compliance

Document Type



Isolated food safety crises are not uncommon occurrences in the United States. Indeed, the history of public scares indicates a pattern of deficiencies in the safety of the American food supply. In the early 20th century, the public learned of the squalid conditions of meatpacking facilities through muckraking publications such as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. In the 1980s, a 60 Minutes report documented research finding carcinogenic properties of a widespread pesticide, traces of which were commonly found in apple-based products. In the 1990s, widespread media reports of beef tainted with E. coli led to both product recalls unprecedented in scope and massive sales losses in the beef and fast-food industries. In this decade, fresh produce has been the source of one of the largest outbreaks of foodborne illness in American history. But perhaps the most noteworthy distinguishing factor between each of these incidents has been the relative amount of top-down regulations imposed immediately after the resulting scare. Not coincidentally, federal legislation requiring agency inspection of all meat products passed in the same year as The Jungle was published. In 1989, the EPA banned the use of the Alar pesticide. Federal and/or state regulation, therefore, has become accepted as a standard part of day-to-day operations for the majority of agricultural industries.