A curious relic of a law – enacted when regulators still acted on the sides of consumers in matters of food – could soon be repealed.
A state statute from the late 1800s still on the books today makes fake butter a crime if it is yellow or if the container doesn’t clearly state “substitute for butter” in lettering at least an inch tall.
Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, is prefiling a bill today to repeal the state’s outdated butter laws.
“These statutes haven’t been enforced in decades, if not generations, and today are honored more in breach than the observance,” she said in a prepared statement. “As a result, there is no reason to keep them on the books.”
She believes the butter laws were an attempt at the time to protect “big butter” business from competition. It didn’t work: Today, grocery stores such as Moser’s Discount Foods carry four times as many substitute brands than real butter.
This poor woman has it exactly backwards. Faux butter was labeled as such against the wishes of the big business (only they could produce the complex chemical slew that is margarine…anyone with a cow can make butter) to protect consumers from fakery.
Michael Pollan has described this process:
People — actually, in the late 1900s, several states passed laws saying you had to dye your butter pink so people wouldn’t be confused and would know that that’s an imitation food. And then the Supreme Court — the industry got the Supreme Court to throw this out. And it turned out that we replaced this possibly mildly unhealthy fat called saturated fat with now a demonstrably lethal one called hydrogenated oil.
So this well-meaning legislator has raised an important issue, albeit not the one she intended. Why do so many of our laws actively work against our health and safety? And as in case of mega-dairies not wanting Weiler Dairy and other small, local farmers to be able to call their milk “hormone free,” why are we constantly having to fight for the right to know what we’re eating?