Menu Labeling and Soda Bans: Just Another Attempt from the 'Food Police'

WASHINGTON – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban was struck down in July, but other regulations meant to improve food safety and curb obesity still persist, much to the discontent of those that deem such actions as misguided overreach from the government’s “food police.”

The problem with many healthy-eating initiatives is that they pose a potential encroachment on the freedom of Americans, said Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute. As examples of this intrusion, he pointed out a Chicago public school that prohibited parents from packing their child’s lunch because school personnel could not monitor the meals. He also referred to a Harvard public health study that suggested obese children be removed from their parents.

Olson, during a panel at the Heritage Foundation focused on government interventions in the dietary choices of Americans, added that the threat from the Obama administration is not from the first lady’s “Let’s Move” health initiative to encourage children to stay active and eat healthy food.

“Conservatives are distracted by the Michelle Obama half of the equation, where most of what she has done is pretty innocuous actually,” he said. “We’re not paying attention when President Obama named as head of the Centers for Disease Control none other than Thomas Frieden, Bloomberg’s health czar in New York. That’s a much greater tipping of his hand than anything Michelle Obama has done.”

Frieden was appointed to the post in 2009, following a seven-year stint as New York City Health Department commissioner through Bloomberg’s first two terms, pushing anti-trans fat and anti-smoking proposals during his tenure.

Olson said the Obama administration is funneling massive grants to localities that are willing to do things like “propagandize against salt and fat” and for outright lobbying to “stir up these local initiatives to have the town ban happy meals or have the town ban the locations of a fast food restaurant through zoning.”

“You thought these things were springing up because someone was interested in them. The fact is, the federal government, your money, has been paying for those things to spring up everywhere,” Olson said. “I don’t know whether we can defund Obamacare in general. But the fact is Obamacare has a slush fund, which is going to be throwing off $2 million often insulated from the appropriations process in Congress in order to do health interventions including propaganda and much else. I hope they can at least defund that part of it.”

Traditionally, public health has focused on battling communicable diseases to ensure the well-being of the American people by doing things like ensuring that the water supply is clean, monitoring food supply safety, and promoting vaccination.

If the old public health paradigm was about protecting Americans from things beyond their control, the new paradigm is about protecting Americans from themselves, said J. Justin Wilson, a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom.

“The trouble with the new public health paradigm…is that it’s inherently paternalistic but also that’s impossible to take into account that we all have different risk tolerances,” he said.

Having all but eliminated the dangers of tainted foods and other major communicable diseases, government bureaucrats have redefined themselves and shifted their focus from safety to nutrition, Wilson said.