by James Ray Deaton 6/19/15
Is that bag of potato chips you bought yesterday out of federal slack fill compliance? You needn’t read news about urban riots, celebrity sex changes, secret trade deals, grifty politicians or general all-round murder and mayhem to sense that our dear old republic has wandered off track. Sometimes all you have to do is gaze into a freshly opened bag of chips or box of cereal.
The empty space between the top of the cereal and the top of the cereal box is officially called “nonfunctional slack fill” by the federal bureaucrats who measure, track, regulate and fuss about such things. When the federal regulatory leviathan is so pervasive that excessive “slack fill” is an actionable offense you know that the ghost of Thomas Jefferson is somewhere, somehow, either crying in shame or taking up arms against someone.
A recent article in the The Wall Street Journal business section (WSJ 6/12/15) detailed how one spice making company is suing another for allegedly violating federal slack fill laws with its pepper tins. The article also notes that the maker of a meat snack stick is targeted in a lawsuit because of “certain boxes that are more than 1.5 inches longer” than the actual meat stick itself.
In another instance, according to the article, a pharmacy chain agreed to pay a $225,000 fine in California last year for “excessive packaging” of some of its in-store brand products. “Excessive packaging” sounds like something aging rockstars might stuff into the front of their jeans to enhance their, uh, sex appeal before going onstage to perform — not something the government needs to regulate.
How did we get to this regulatory purgatory? Do we really need government officials and others worrying about such things as slack fill, excessive packaging and “de-sheeting”? (When the number of sheets in a toilet-paper roll is reduced). Taxpayers actually pay people to come up with these terms and the rules and regulations behind them. Meetings are held to discuss enforcement strategies and settlement options. Powerpoint presentations are likely involved. Lawyers are retained.
Is there nothing so picayune that the long and expensive arm of the federal regulatory apparatus is not enlisted and empowered to “protect and defend” the apparently powerless and infantile consumer?
Before we became regulation-nation, slack fill and de-sheeting issues were mostly self-limiting and resolved in the marketplace. If brand “A” toilet paper short-sheeted you once too often — you probably started buying full-sheeted brand “B” toilet paper (or not). If brand “C” candy bar started shrinking in size over the years, you likely started buying the full-size brand “D” candy bar (or not).
Consumers, not government regulations, were the driving force. Companies that short-sheeted too much or employed excessive “slack fill” or other potentially deceptive practices likely lost customers and either changed their slacker ways or went out of business (or not). But either way, such an expensive, intrusive and bureaucratic federal web of regulation was not involved.
Maybe things have gone too far and some kind of bureaucratic, regulatory critical mass has irrevocably changed our nation. Maybe not. The very fact that the term “nonfunctional slack fill” is somewhere, somehow, part of federal law is disturbing. Something has changed (fundamentally transformed?) when the empty space at the top of a cereal box is named, measured, monitored, defined and prescribed by our government officials.
James Ray Deaton, one of six known conservatives living in Berkeley, Calif., is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
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