(Aug. 26) Joe Garin just wanted some answers.

His company, Colo-Pac Produce Inc., Denver, was very nearly fined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the dastardly crime of failing to register its Mexican avocados. What’s more, when Garin asked the USDA where he could find the proper paperwork so as to avoid this problem in the future, he was told that the rule would likely change by the next avocado shipping season, so there would be no point in him filing the paper work now.

Your federal government at work, ladies and gentlemen.

LAW CHANGED

See, under the law, which was changed last year, Mexican avocados are allowed to enter only certain states. And when they do enter those certain states, they have to have a permit.

Well, OK, not the avocados themselves, but the company bringing them in.

It would be pretty silly to try to make an avocado carry a permit. They have no arms. And how would you enforce it anyway? Would our jails become overcrowded with illegal avocados? Of course they’d never survive living among convicts who’ve been fed nothing but prison food for who knows how long.

But getting back to my point (I do have one), the only reason I know about this particular law is that after The Packer received an e-mail from Garin, I spent about 30 minutes on the USDA Web site (www.usda.gov) looking it up.

Thirty minutes may not seem like much time to most people. But to a dedicated, hard-working produce journalist, it’s very nearly a quarter of his lunch break.

WHY WAIT

Garin said he spent about the same amount of time searching for the regulation. What he wanted to know was why couldn’t the USDA do a better job of notifying people when those regulations change instead of just notifying them when they are about to be fined? An excellent question.

The situation brought to mind “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” a wonderfully absurd book written by the late Douglas Adams.

The story starts off with the book’s hero, Arthur Dent, attempting to save his house from being bulldozed to make way for a new highway. Arthur objected on the grounds that nobody had notified him, to which he was told that the notice had been on display at the hall of records for several months and that he could have seen it at any time.

That is, if anyone had ever told him it was there.

GOT THE MESSAGE

Of course, all of this is made irrelevant by the fact that Earth is soon destroyed by a disgusting, poetry-spouting race of aliens known as Vogons so that they may make room for a new interstellar bypass. Naturally, the records for this were available for public viewing as well, not that anyone on Earth knew of their existence. Or the existence of the aliens. Or pretty much anything else, for that matter.

All of this happens in the opening chapters of the book and it makes a wonderful point about government and bureaucracy that is perhaps even more relevant today than when the book was written in the late 1970s.

Our government has grown into a large, wasteful bureaucracy that can’t even keep track of its own computers, much less something as mundane as a regulation regarding avocados.

How hard would it be for the USDA to post changes to these regulations someplace that’s easier to find? Or at least do a better job of notifying people when the regulations change?

DAUNTING TASK

Of course, some would argue that this is where publications like The Packer come in. That’s true to a certain extent. We do keep on top of legislative and regulatory issues. But if we covered every detail of every regulatory change made by the government regarding produce, we’d go through more paper printing one issue than the government goes through in, oh, maybe half a day’s worth of memos.

Joe Garin came to The Packer looking for answers. Sad to say, I have none. Calls I made to the USDA were not returned. I did search the Web site and I did find the regulation in question, which is a moot point, of course, since it will likely change in the coming months.

So, feeling as bad as I do about not being able to answer Garin’s question, I am instead doing what I do best — complaining about the government in this column.

I don’t know if it will help, but I certainly feel better.