Hard-boiled skeptics might not see it this way, but in the world of federal regulation, nothing may be quite as scrambled as the situation at the American Egg Board.
They're about to add two consumer representatives to the board. But then again, maybe they're not.
Here's what's happening:
The egg industry is regulated by an egg research and promotion order, a congressionally authorized procedure that assesses commercial producers a fee (a nickel per case) to finance nutrition research and bolster marketing.
The American Egg Board, composed of 18 industry representatives, keeps watch over the research and handles assessments. Other farm products (potatoes and cotton, to name two) have similar promotion boards, all a part of the complicated scheme of regulating agriculture.
The Carter administration decided that consumers ought to be represented on boards of this sort and so, in 1980, Congress passed some amendments to the Egg Research and Consumer Information Act of 1974, the basic law that governs the egg producers.
A higher fee on eggs, rising ultimately to 10 cents per case, was authorized to finance research and promotion. And the secretary of agriculture was directed to appoint two consumer representatives to the egg board. The idea, of course, was that consumer interests should have input on questions of research and nutrition.
Before you think the average egg buyer is about to crack through the shell of the egg industry, there's a catch. The 1980 amendments were proposed by a task force of the egg industry.
The amendments will let the egg industry vote on whether it wants a higher assessment and whether it wants the consumer representatives on its board. If the consumer issue passes, each of 52 producer groups will get to nominate two names (they must have no industry ties) for the new seats.
From that list, Secretary John R. Block will pick two members and two alternates. Or, he can pick his own member.
Before any of that comes to pass, however, USDA must hold public hearings on its proposed regulations for carrying out the research and information act.
Actually, according to Lou Raffel, executive director of the egg board, based in Chicago, the producers think it's a good idea to have consumers on the board.
He said the board already has a consumer adviser, Edna DeCoursey Johnson, a board member of Consumers Union, who has been "very helpful to us."
Raffel wondered why anyone might assume that a consumer nominee chosen by the egg producers wouldn't do a good job.
Connor Kennett, a poultry official at USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, put it in a little different light. Could one expect, he was asked hypothetically, that the producers might nominate, say, a Ralph Nader to the board?
"I wouldn't expect they'd do that," Kennett said.