T Nation

WSJ Editorial on FDA's Proposed Restaurant Labeling Regulations

I very much like the underlying messages here: 1) Don’t enable trial lawyers; 2) Get off your lazy arse and take responsibility for what you shove in your piehole, and the fact you don’t exercise.

Fat Recipe

In response to America’s expanding waistline, the Food and Drug Administration is – drum roll, please – re-examining food labeling requirements. Far be it from us to doubt the government’s good intentions, but we hope everyone understands that the groups lobbying for these changes are interested in more than the cholesterol counts of chubby children. Things like lawsuits and cash.

Under the current labeling system, in effect since 1993, nutritional information is listed by “serving size.” Which means you have to do some fourth-grade math to determine how many total calories are in that jumbo bag of chips. The proposed changes would require food companies to spell out that information for the entire package, not just a portion.

That’s a simple enough change – though not inexpensive for the food industry – and it may indeed make it easier for people to track their caloric intake. But the current labeling system can hardly explain the country’s weight problems, especially since obesity was less of a problem before there were any FDA labeling rules.

According to the FDA, nearly two-thirds of all Americans are overweight. That includes 13% of children age six to 11, which is nearly double the rate two decades ago. Is it now considered too harsh to suggest that perhaps Americans are eating too much or not exercising enough? To blame plus-size America on misleading nutrition information is both a cop-out and an insult to intelligent adults who are perfectly aware that eating Oreo double-stuffs won’t produce washboard abs.

We hope the FDA’s efforts lead to a better informed public, but let’s not forget the other agendas at work here. For groups like Michael Jacobson’s Center for Science in the Public Interest, Ben Kelley’s Public Health Advocacy Institute and other Naderite outfits urging enhanced labeling rules, the goal is to discourage consumption of products they dislike and create a public demand for still more regulation, taxes and litigation.

These are the same folks who provided the “expert” testimony and legal muscle behind the Big Tobacco onslaught, and they freely admit to targeting Coke and Nestle as the next Philip Morris. Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC and McDonald’s have already been sued. At a confab in Boston earlier this year – helpfully titled “Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic” – Messrs. Jacobson and Kelly got together with tobacco suit veterans Richard Daynard and John Banzhaf to talk shop. Material handed out at the event stated that its purpose was “to encourage and support litigation against the food industry.”

These food cops are no less active at the state level, where this year labeling legislation for restaurants was introduced in Washington, D.C., and at least a half-dozen states, including New York and Pennsylvania. Last month, Democrat Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut introduced a federal bill that “extends nutrition labeling beyond packaged foods to include foods at fast-food and other chain restaurants . . .”

Like its state counterparts, Ms. DeLauro’s proposal just happens to bear a strong resemblance to the special interest groups’ model legislation. As night follows day, this law would quickly be followed by “mislabeling” suits. Woe be the hash slinger who piles too many fries on that Denny’s burger platter.

The reality is that products sold in grocery stores already have nutritional labeling, restaurants provide food contents to anyone who asks, and fast-food outlets list ingredients on menus and Web sites. Overweight Americans don’t need more labeling information; they need to walk away from the buffet table.

Updated December 4, 2003

Also, one more comment. Ever wonder how all this nanny-state stuff gets started? It’s because people either acquiesce or ignore it when other people get regulated. Who cares if they pass laws that infringe upon restaurant owner’s rights to allow smoking in their establishments, right? Or try to regulate cigarettes as drug-delivery devices.

After all, it’s not like they’re going to try to regulate supplements, right? And given the way our common-law system is set up on precedents and analogous reasoning, no one will ever try to build upon or expand their silly regulations once they get their feet in the door, right?

BTW, please do write your representatives and senators about the supplement regulation. If you won’t even stand up for your own rights, who will do it for you?