Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Illegal Seafood; I Violated the Lacey Act Today

I just learned that I'm violating the law as I sit here at home peacefully eating dinner. And so are you, most likely. It looks like almost everyone is guilty of something or other almost every day thanks to the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42; 16 U.S.C. 3371-3378), which is a United States federal law that makes it a crime for an American to violate any law or administrative regulation of any state, country or tribe anywhere on earth concerning any fish, wildlife or plant.

That's pretty sweeping. Here's the key text of the Lacey Act:

It is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, possess, or purchase any fish, wildlife, or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any Federal, State, foreign [!], or Indian tribal law, treaty, or regulation.

A civil penalty can be as much as $10,000 ... For a felony offense, a maximum $250,000 fine per individual and $500,000 per organization, and/or up to 5 years imprisonment for each violation of the Act can be assessed. A misdemeanor offense carries a maximum $100,000 fine per individual and $200,000 per organization, and/or up to 1 year imprisonment ... Vehicles, aircraft, vessels, or other equipment used during the commission of the crime may be forfeited to the government in cases involving felony convictions.

Now, many types of foods are banned in many different places, both foreign and domestic. To name just a few:

-- Foie gras is banned in Turkey, the European Union, and Israel

-- Raw milk is banned in 22 states of the USA as well as Canada

-- Trans fats are banned in New York City

-- Pork, alcohol, and any animal that was not slaughtered in an approved Halal manner are banned in Islamic countries

-- Shellfish is banned by Kosher dietary laws

-- The European Union bans genetically modified foods and restricts or regulates almost everything else

So where does that leave the common patriotic American citizen, like me, when he makes dinner? Or even when he shops for groceries, since it is prohibited to "receive, acquire, possess, or purchase any fish" etc., that is illegal in any jurisdiction in the world, even if you were acting in good faith and didn't know that particular fish, etc., was outlawed in Timbuktu or New York City? There is no way to know what's legal to eat.

I am engaging in multiple Lacey Act violations even as I type this, since I've been cooking mussels (a shellfish) by steaming them over a mixture of water, garlic and cheap white wine (alcohol) and will consume them after applying a little butter (trans fat). If only I had some foie gras and raw milk, I could be on a crime spree that might, theoretically, put me in prison for years and cost me everything I own.

Are we all constantly violating laws that we don't even know exist? It seems we are. How exactly did this situation come about?

I'm writing a strong letter to my Senators and Representative in the morning, right after I violate the Lacey Act some more by possessing suspect coffee.

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