Wisconsin and the Butter Wars
Do you like Kerrygold butter? Imported from Ireland, it’s a bit more high end as far as butter goes, but it’s considered by many to be one of the best brands you can buy. It’s sold freely throughout most of the United States—except for Wisconsin. It was recently decided that the selling of Kerrygold butter is illegal in that state.
Rules and Regulations
Wisconsin has a number of regulations that govern the sale of butter within state lines. One of them is that the cows who produce the milk for this butter cannot be grass fed. Kerrygold cows are grass fed, which makes the sale of Kerrygold illegal in Wisconsin. Any retailer who does sell the banned butter can face a fine of $1,000 and up to 6 months in prison.
Of course, Wisconsin food authorities have misjudged just how popular this Irish butter is. To circumvent the law, many people are traveling across state lines to Illinois just to buy some Kerrygold. Meanwhile, others have filed a lawsuit against the state, in order to allow the sale of the butter again. They believe they should be able to buy the butter they want freely, and that the so-called standards that the law imposes should be left to the discretion of the individual retailers, rather than dictated by the government. But why are these regulations imposed in the first place? What purpose do they serve?
The Real Reason for the Regulation
On the surface, the regulation does serve a purpose. In the interest of health and safety, only Grade A butter is allowed to be sold in Wisconsin. The fact that Kerrygold is grass fed and imported from Ireland means that it’s not graded by the USDA. Therefore, it’s forbidden.
However, there isn’t really any health or safety issue in play. In fact, according to some studies, grass fed butter actually has a number of health benefits, and Kerrygold prides itself on being all natural. So what could the problem be?
The problem is that people who are buying butter imported from Ireland are people who aren’t buying butter made by local Wisconsin dairy farmers. Wisconsin has a large number of dairy farmers, and they have a significant amount of power when it comes to legislation within the state. So they find a reason to ban the sale of a popular butter that doesn’t directly benefit them, and increase their own profits in the process.
The Problem with the Regulation
Of course, it doesn’t actually work this way in practice. As we’ve seen, Wisconsin Kerrygold fans are crossing state lines in order to stock up on the butter that they love, rather than giving in and buying something locally produced, as was the law’s original intent.
And so instead of benefitting local businesses, the law actually hurts it, since local retailers aren’t allowed to sell Kerrygold. Therefore, they’re losing money whenever people go to Illinois or Nebraska for their butter. Furthermore, the people who are crossing state lines are losing money, spending more on gas for the trip than they would if the butter was readily available nearby. And the Wisconsin dairy farmers aren’t actually doing any better than they were before the regulation was enforced.
In the end, trying to regulate free trade only causes problems. Even when it does benefit certain special interests, it hurts everyone else, limiting their options and making it more difficult to do what will benefit them.
The same sort of thing has been done many times in the past, with other products including food, medication, and more. Rather than trying to micromanage, the government should simply let the market regulate itself in these matters. Everyone will be a lot better off.