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Orwellian or Good Policy?

krispy.jpgIn New York City, Mayor Bloomberg and his administration are proposing a law that would ban the use of trans-fat in the city’s 24,000 restaurants, which would require many of those restaurants to rejigger their menus to accommodate the policy. Trans-fat, of course, comes from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarines, and some shortenings, and some experts allege that trans-fat is the cause of death for over 500 NYC residents a year. It can also lead to obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.

I’ll admit that I’m of two minds on the issue. On the one hand, I suppose Bloomberg and Co., should be applauded for actually doing something about health policies in NYC. Trans-fat is easily replaceable, and the artery-clogging substance does lead to an enormous amount of health problems. If the city can create policies that establish a minimum warranty of habitability in its housing, perhaps it’s a positive step to do the same thing with the food we eat, even if it does mean that Krispy Kreme will have to make modifications to its donut glaze.

But on the other hand, it does sound awfully Orwellian, doesn’t it? Should we be letting the government dictate what we can and cannot eat? I can certainly understand forcing restaurants to warn its customers that the foods they serve contain dangerous fatty acids, but shouldn’t the citizenry have the choice as to whether to consume the food? And what will this policy do to the restaurants – will it result in higher costs, which will be shifted to the consumers? But then again, the cheaper costs of using trans-fat has already been shifted to our health care budgets, which rise under the weight of heart disease and obesity in the country.

So, is it a good policy? Honestly, I don’t know. But the fact that “top industry groups” are criticizing the proposal leads me to believe that I might just favor it. I’ve never been a fan of the “top industry groups.”

| Comments (2)


I think a warning on a menu might be a lot more effective than enforcing a ban. In the snack food industry, for example, chip manufacturers (e.g. Frito Lay) voluntarily switched from saturated fats and transfats to unsaturated fats when consumers began to complain once they started reading the nutrition labels.

By the way, unsaturated fats do come at a health price. They go rancid quickly. That's why trans fats and saturated fats became popular in the first place. They don't go rancid nearly as fast.

When the snack food industry switched to unsaturated fats, they then had to flush their bags with nitrogen to get the air out. They also had to switch to a more expesive plastic film that wouldn't let air diffuse back in once the bags were sealed.

Uh, dude, there are a LOT more Orwellian bones you might pick than the government trying to restrict wealthy food manufacturers from serving harmful chemicals to people and calling it "food."