I came across an interesting topic on the Irascible Professor’s blog: whether or not banning harmful food product such as trans-fat infringes upon a person’s right to eat whatever they want, healthy or otherwise. This question is in response to libertarian John Stossel’s article “What Will They Ban Next?” where Stossel opines that citizens’ eating habits should not be monitored by the government. Stossel says trans fat gives French fries “that texture I like” and since heart disease in America is declining, “So, if they’re [trans fat] killing us, they’re not doing a very good job.” Booooo.
He goes on:
But that’s not the point. In a free society the issue is: Who decides what I eat, the government or me? It’s not as though information about trans fats is hard to come by. Scaremongers like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are all too happy to tell you about the dangers, and they have no trouble getting their declarations of doom on television and into newspapers.
(Continued below the fold……….)
I’ve posted a bit about trans fat over at the old Retrospectacle to the tune of this:
Trans fat is a partially hydrogenated oil, and changes the chemical structure of an otherwise not-as-unhealthy fat to a very unhealthy fat. Partial hydrogenation increases the shelf life of packaged foods and has the ability of keeping what *should* be liquids at room temperature, solids (think that fluffy creme in Twinkies or the icing in Oreos). Partially hydrogenated oils are also much less expensive than alternatives like butter and olive oil, and have been largely phased out outside the US. This process is now happening in the US as well. Trans fat behaves like saturated fat by raising the level of low-density lipoprotein in the blood (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) which increases the risk of heart disease. It has the additional effect of decreasing levels of high-density lipoprotein, the “good” lipoprotein which helps remove cholesterol from arteries. This makes trans fats even WORSE than saturated fats like butter.
Now Stossel’s argument is flawed due to the fact that choice should involve reasonable limits as well as informed consent. There are perhaps some people out there who would like to choose a tall glass of liquid Mercury in the morning instead of a latte. This is a choice that causes a reasonable expectation for serious harm, and therefore should not be a choice at all. Perhaps a person might wish to pump gasoline into 2 liter bottles instead of their gas task, is it impinging upon their freedom that they can’t? And as for the issue of informed consent, the whole issue of trans fat being bad for you has only been in the public consciousness for about one year (since food manufacturers were required to list it). This is despite trans fat being in existence for about 100 years. Talk to a health professional, who has experience with coronary disease I would say they are informed. But in the same way that a normal person would not be able to properly weigh the consequences of drinking a glass of mercury (let’s imagine it tasted divine), nor would they be able to properly weigh how “bad” trans fat is for you. That the entire point of the FDA. What if salmonella-infested meat tasted great?
Stossel goes on:
The Center for Consumer Freedom is running ads saying: “Now that New York has banned cooking oils with trans fat (the same substance as margarine) … it opens the door to banning so much more! Using the same logic, let’s get rid of New York style pizza (seriously, do you need all that cheese?), beef hot dogs (tofu dogs almost taste the same), corned beef (turkey breast is much leaner). … ”
Yes, I know the center’s sponsors include restaurants and food companies, but still, it has a good point.
The issue here is that the restaurant industry is bitching, not because they give a damn about your personal freedom (You really think tipping is option? What about those forced gratuities on parties more than 6?) but because trans fat is CHEAP. As in dirt cheap compared to the alternatives. So the banning of this cheap fat cuts into their bottom line as they have to find more expensive (yet far, far healthier) substitutes.
More info here: http://www.fda.gov/oc/initiatives/transfat/