Competition doesn't mean beans when you've got government regulators on your side

Tim Carney at the Washington Examiner offers a neat little case study in the power of government-dispensed anti-competition, as hummus maker Sabra pushes for regulations that will block many of its competitors out of the market:

Sabra in February filed a petition with the Food & Drug Administration for stricter rules on what can be labelled “Hummus” — or, “Hommus,” “Hommos,” “Humos,” or “Houmous.”

It must be predominantly chick peas, and at least five percent sesame seed paste. Options allowed include vegetable oil, garlic, acidifying agents, salt, sodium benzoate, spices, sodium bicarbonate, texturizers, buffering agents, and a handful of others.

Sabra is apparently pushing back on the trend of competitors making hummus with so many other beans that the garbanzos get drowned out. “From black beans and white beans to lentils, soybeans, and navy beans,” a top Sabra official said in a statement quoted by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, “everyone wants to call their dip ‘hummus.'”

This is how to think of much regulation: the tool the dominant incumbent businesses use to keep competition on their terms.

Full disclosure: I’m a regular consumer of Sabra hummus, which I do indeed buy at Costco (where Carney describes Sabra as the “official hummus”) so I have no beans to pick with the company.  When it comes to the hummus wars, all I want is peas.

But this all sounds like a load of sodium benzoate to me.  How in the world can it be a serious concern of the FDA to micro-manage the content of hummus, or the use of the term to describe various broadly similar snacks?

The weird mythology of business, especially Big Business, somehow being inherently “anti-government” is long past its sell-by date.


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