J.W. Looney

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Agriculture, broadly defined, is the country's largest industry. Fully one-fourth of the work force is involved in agricultural production, processing and manufacturing, and in the marketing and distribution of agricultural products. Agriculture's contribution to the Gross National Product is at least twenty percent of the total. Agriculture is a highly regulated industry. For example, it has been estimated that to bring an ordinary product such as the hamburger to the American consumer almost 300 statutory programs are involved. The cost of regulation for a pound of Thanksgiving turkey could be as high as fifteen cents.2 And, for highly processed products such as microwaveable lasagna or breakfast cereal, with more steps in processing, marketing, and distribution, there is even greater government involvement to bring products from the farm to consumer.

This Article reviews the historical development of United States agricultural regulation and the most important regulatory programs currently in place. Regulatory policy affecting farm level production, processing, and manufacturing, along with marketing and distribution of agricultural products is discussed. An important focus is the evolution of agricultural regulation from economic and business concerns of individual farm producers and consumers of agricultural products toward broader societal concerns such as farm structure, environmental issues, and trade policy. Closely related is a shift in emphasis from purely domestic policies to the global setting, as well as agriculture's role in an interdependent international economy. However, the shift in focus means an increase in certain types of regulatory programs-those most directly affecting farm production. It is this change in focus that is the trend most important to agricultural producers.