It surprises me that in China every product shows what quality standard it follows (e.g. YY0469 for surgical masks and GB2717 for soy sauce). Apparently all products for domestic sales are required to follow such standards and subject to auditing. Failures to do so is punishable by law. This effectively restricts the quality and cost of the product above a agreed minimum level.

Similar regulations is rarely observed in US. In US we often see certification as a enforcement or rating of quality and performance (e.g. DOT certified motorcycle helmit) but non-certified product are also allowed for sale.

But on the other hand, EPA, DoE, FCC do enforce product quality indirectly, e.g. by regulating environmental impact, smog emissions, energy efficiency and EMI/EMC.

I'm not sure why product quality regulations are not widely enforced in US. My best guess is it interferes with the free market, so I'm asking this question:

Is it constitutional for federal or state government agencies to directly enforce minimum product quality?

My rough research seems to indicate it is, e.g. USDA standard for dry whole milk

It contains not more than 5 percent by weight of moisture on a milk solids not fat basis and notless than 26 percent but less than 40 percent by weight of milk fat. It shall conform to theapplicable provisions of 21 CFR 131 “Milk and Cream” as issued by the Food and DrugAdministration.

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    "product quality regulations are not widely enforced in US": I don't think this is true. There are quality and safety regulations on most things. They don't always list the specific standard on them, but they're highly regulated. For example, here's a link to USDA standards for soy sauce, with specific definitions (including specific mold species for fermentation), protein, salt, alcohol, and pH ranges: ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/CID%20Soy%20Sauce.pdf
    – divibisan
    Apr 28, 2020 at 19:52
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    @divibisan "CIDs are procurement documents that may be used by purchasers. They are NOT regulations, and it is not mandatory for amanufacturer to follow a CID. Manufacturers must only comply with a CID when it is being used by a purchaser to specify a product that the manufacturer has agreed tosupply. "ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/… So CID is only enforceable by the purchaser, not the US government, and is optional too. Apr 28, 2020 at 20:31
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    Some of those regulations may refer only to how the product is named; e.g. you can sell milk with 15% fat but you cannot claim that it is "dry whole milk". A typical product that involves lots of regulations are pharmaceutical drugs, maybe there is more info on those.
    – SJuan76
    Apr 28, 2020 at 22:06
  • The examples you give - EPA, DoE, FCC - are not regulating product quality, they are largely regulating how the products affect others. E.g. your car that meets EPA emissions standards could still be a total lemon that self-destructs as soon as the warranty period is up - if not before. For examples, search on "Dodge Dakota transmission problems" or "Porsche intermediate shaft bearing".
    – jamesqf
    Apr 29, 2020 at 3:53
  • What makes you question the constiutionality of consumer good regulation? [Non US citizen speaking] The constitution says, among other things, that all citizens need to be treated equally. If consumer good regulation applies to all, why would it not be constitutional? OTOH, the constituion regulates the most basic rules a society gives itself; consumer goods regulation is far too specific to be dealt with by the constitution. Please elaborate on the link between the constitution and the regulation.
    – Dohn Joe
    Apr 29, 2020 at 8:49

1 Answer 1


It is constitutional for state agencies to do so, whether by regulating product quality directly or by regulating licensing for the designers and manufacturers of said products (consider Licensed Professional Engineers).

At the federal level, doing so would in nearly all cases violate the Tenth Amendment. So federal product regulations (from agriculture to transportation to medicine to firearms) tend to theoretically be restricted only to products sold in interstate commerce. In practice most products are advertised to residents of multiple states and thus become subject to federal regulation, the regulators tend to assume that this fraction is 100%.

Some legal theories have been advanced that even products sold intrastate influence interstate markets and therefore can be regulated. I don't know to what degree this theory has actually been tested in court. This argument seems to generally be accepted to not apply to personal services (barbers for instance are regulated only by states).

The Tenth Amendment is the foundation both for states having the power and denying it to the federal government.

As a result of the states holding power, you will find that product quality/safety/composition requirements do in fact exist locally, for example in California, and so a significant fraction of products permitted in other states cannot be sold in or shipped to buyers in California.

Of course, some products and services such as mail delivery are specifically mentioned as national powers in the Constitution and correspondingly handled at the federal level. But those not enumerated are regulated by state or local authorities.

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    Wickard v. Filburn is fairly explicitly SCOTUS itself declaring that theory correct. It upheld that Congress could impose regulatory restrictions on wheat someone grows for their own consumption, under the idea that if enough people did that then the demand for selling and buying wheat on an interstate basis would be impacted. Even though nobody was actually engaging in any actual commerce; it was the hypothetical nullification of commerce that became adequate to invoke the commerce clause. Apr 29, 2020 at 3:36
  • @zibadawatimmy: But Wikard is not the final word. In particular the review of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) determined that Congress did not have authority under the Commerce Clause to require "creditable" health insurance coverage, but did have taxing authority to establish a penalty for not having it.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 3, 2020 at 17:06

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