The NY Times published an interesting piece today on the burden of regulations and how they apply to one mid-sized apple farm in upstate New York. What’s interesting is that the piece while not anti-regulation, is certainly skeptical of the increasing volume of regulations and the burden they place on small businesses forced to comply with a litany of over-lapping requirements from several different agencies.
The investigators arrived on a Friday in late September and interviewed the farm’s management and a group of laborers from Jamaica, who have special work visas. The investigators hand delivered a notice and said they would be back the following week, when they asked to have 22 types of records available. The request included vehicle registrations, insurance documents and time sheets — reams of paper in all.
Over the next several days, the Ten Eyck family, which owns the farm, along with the staff devoted about 40 hours to serving the investigators, who visited three times before closing the books.
“It is terribly disruptive,” said Peter G. Ten Eyck II, 79, who runs the farm along with a daughter and son. “And the dimension that doesn’t get mentioned is the psychological hit: They are there to find something wrong with you. And then they are going to fine you.”
One highlight of the lengthy piece is the examination of the many regulations regarding the use of ladders:
During the Obama administration, food and worker safety were particular priorities among regulators, Mr. Ten Eyck said. O.S.H.A., pairing with its New York State counterpart, took an interest in a range of workplace issues. One persistent concern is the use of ladders. “The number of rules on ladders alone!” said Mr. Ten Eyck, explaining there is an assortment of rules, guidances, standards and training requirements associated with ladders, including how to achieve proper angling and how to prevent falling when filling produce bags.
Ladders fall toward the excessive end of Mr. Ten Eyck’s sliding scale of regulatory cumbrance; on the more helpful end are procedures required to track produce when there is a disease or illness outbreak. Most rules fall somewhere in between…
Mr. Ten Eyck says some of the requirements are impractical. The safety plan at Indian Ladder, for example, calls for someone to check the orchard each morning for mouse and deer droppings and address the problem before picking begins. The worry is that the droppings could get attached to a worker’s shoe, get tracked onto a rung of a ladder, end up on a worker’s hands and then on the apples.
Mr. Ten Eyck says the requirement was “ridiculous” in practice — the equivalent of finding an earring in the orchard — so Indian Farms came up with an alternative to scouring the orchard every morning. “We have trained the guys only to grab the rails of the ladder,” he said.
The article makes clear that Ten Eyck and his family (his daughter is identified as a Democrat) aren’t anti-regulation. They agree that some of the regulations are worthwhile and others are tolerable, but a huge amount of effort goes into even being aware of what the regulations are, much less complying with them. “You have to go to meetings and attend workshops. You are responsible to know what the hell is going on. It’s a business,” Mr. Ten Eyck tells the Times.
And the burden is expected to increase even more under the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 which will begin to kick in on some family farms in 2019. This new regulation makes the FDA even more involved in food production. Deputy commissioner for food safety Stephen Ostroff says, “Our goal is not to add to their burden. Our goal is to help them produce safe food.” The Times doesn’t say this but it sounds a lot like Ronald Reagan’s famous maxim about the nine most terrifying words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”