by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As Appearing in the Daily Sentinel
Restaurant owners may know that open-faced sandwiches are regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services. But if a second piece of bread is added on top, it is regulated by the Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s because the USDA has a very specific definition of a sandwich: two slices of bread with the meat in the middle. So, is a hot dog a sandwich? The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says no, but the State of California says yes. How about a burrito? Massachusetts ruled that a burrito is not a sandwich, but New York says it is. A cheese pizza is regulated by the FDA, but add pepperoni and it becomes a USDA matter. When you make an omelet, FDA regulates the eggs you crack, but if you pour liquid eggs from a carton, it’s USDA.
Regulations can be confusing, sometimes because of vague wording, but often because of overlapping jurisdictions. It’s not always obvious who is in charge. Clean water rules are under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, but projects that might affect stream water require permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A salmon swimming in the ocean is under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce. But if the same fish swims upstream into a river, it becomes province of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Interior Department.
Pundits have made fun of such regulatory silliness for years. Hillary Clinton joked about the sandwich rules when running for the Senate 18 years ago. At least two presidents have cited the weird pizza rules, yet nobody did anything about the regulatory mess.