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The Nanny State



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Published: Sun, 23 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:45:49 -0400

 



Shake Your Head at Italy's Crappy New Food Laws

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Italy is home to some of the best and most memorable meals I've ever eaten. I first visited in 1994, after graduating from college, and have returned on several occasions. Some of my fondest memories are of sampling wonderful street food in Milan, drinking and dining al fresco amid the lights at night in Rome, and enjoying the amazing aromas of wonderful cooking foods that practically permeate the country. That's why I'm disheartened to learn that Italy is increasingly cracking down on its food culture—including, specifically, the aforementioned Milanese street food, drinking and dining outdoors in Rome, and the grand aromas of the country's food. Earlier this month, Milan banned food trucks from the city. Also in July, reports The Local, Rome imposed a series of bans on food and alcohol. The Roman law prohibits grocers and other stores from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. and bars people from drinking alcohol from a glass in public at that same time. It also prohibits all alcohol consumption outdoors after midnight, and cuts off all alcohol sales after 2 a.m. Rome has also joined other Italian cities—notably Florence—in prohibiting picnicking at popular historic sites. The first Saturday the alcohol ban was in place, Roman police issued more than three dozen tickets, which cost about $200 a pop. Many Romans are aghast. "It limits our freedom as a business, and our free choice as responsible adults to be able to drink after 2 a.m.," the owners of Redrum, a restaurant and bar, told The Local. "[It is] a curfew which recalls decidedly sad periods of our history." At least one U.S. publication doesn't see the big deal. Food & Wine—a magazine devoted to celebrating some of the specific things Rome has banned: food and wine—apparently doesn't see the big deal with the Roman law. "Truthfully, it doesn't sound like the law should be difficult to abide," writes F&W's Elisabeth Sherman. "You'll still be able to enjoy Rome with respect, and a glass of wine in your hand, at least until two in the morning. By then, you should be in bed anyway." This isn't all Italy's getting wrong. This month, the country's highest court ruled that restaurants that serve frozen food to customers without declaring so on their menus are guilty of civil fraud. A restaurateur who'd disputed the charges was fined more than $2,000. "Even the mere availability of frozen food, if not identified as such on the menu, constitutes attempted commercial fraud," said the ruling. (Canned tomatoes are apparently still acceptable.) In April, the same court ruled, the New York Post reports, that "cooking stinky food—like rich pasta sauces and fish—too close to neighbors" constitutes a crime. The court, in upholding a couple's fine of more than $2,000, declared cooking food that produces aromas which are subjectively "beyond the limits of tolerability" amounts to "olfactory molestation." A creeping food xenophobia also appears to be taking hold in the country. Last year, Florence imposed restrictions on so-called "foreign" food from being sold in the historic city center. Fair Verona barred "ethnic" foods. This year, Venice banned new fast food outlets, focusing in part on kebab shops, in order to preserve Italian "decorum and traditions." Add to these recent crackdowns the country's ban on cultivating GMO crops and the creeping takeover of the food sector by the mafia, and Italy's future as a culinary titan would seem to be in jeopardy. It was only last summer that I wrote here about a new food law Italy had gotten right. In that case, Italy took action to combat food waste by rolling back complex government recordkeeping requirements and rules barring food from being shared. But one good law can't stand up to heaps of awful ones, which seems to be about all that's cooking in Italy these days.[...]



Jilted Dentist Calls CPS on Mom

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 11:45:00 -0400

(image) Melissa Lopez, a resident of Ontario, Canada, took her 10-year-old daughter to the dentist and was informed that the child had a mouthful of cavities. Lopez was told to bring her daughter back in soon to have fillings done.

But Lopez wanted a second opinion so she switched dentists. The second dentist found fewer cavities.

In the meantime, the first dentist reported Lopez to child protective services for possible "oral neglect."

When the authorities investigated, they discovered that Lopez was not an abusive mom but rather a skeptical consumer of dentistry. So the authorities quickly dropped the investigation and closed the case.

Unfortunately, child protective services is refusing to remove the investigation file from the books. According to the CBC:

[T]he file, Lopez claims she was told, is permanent.

"It will always be there, 10, 15, 20 years from now," she said. "I'm red-flagged, I've been marked, and there's no reason for this to have happened."

The agency says it retains files for "accountability." But if the charges were found meritless, why should they remain a permanent part of Lopez's record?

Under Canadian law, individuals may petition to have criminal charges erased from their records starting five months after the charges are withdrawn, dismissed, or the suspect is acquitted. Yet child protective services will mark Lopez for life. As the CBC reports:

Andrea Maenza, communications co-ordinator for the Durham Children's Aid Society, said that [its] protocol is mandated by the Child and Family Services Act.... [She] stressed that there aren't necessarily negative implications from having a permanent case file, since all the information about the interaction is included, including why it was closed.

"An individual can ask for a copy of their record to know exactly what it says," she added.

I wouldn't feel better knowing that I could ask for a file about myself and find it filled with baseless accusations that were eventually cleared. I'd feel better if anyone who asked about me was told, "Sorry, this person doesn't have a record."

As for the dentist, the folks at child protective services say he did the right thing by alerting them to the mom's possible negligence. Never mind the damage done to the mother's reputation.

Something has gone very wrong in the law when an innocent family can be dragged through the mud like this.




Want to Look at Online Porn? The U.K. Gov't Wants to Strip You of Your Privacy

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 16:45:00 -0400

(image) Prime Minister Theresa May's administration wants to demolish British citizens' privacy if they look at pornography online.

That's not what the government saying, but that's exactly what's going to happen. The United Kingdom is tightening its controls on internet porn in an efforit to keep children away. They're doing this by mandating that porn companies collect proof that anybody attempting to visit a site is a legal adult before letting him see so much as a nipple. This could potentially force people to surrender private information—a credit card number, for example—just to get access, let alone download anything.

The authorities plan to get this system in place by next spring. The enforcement looks pretty severe, according to Ars Technica:

Sites that refuse to cooperate face the wrath of earmarked regulator the British Board of Film Classifications (BBFC). It will have the power to dish out fines of up to £250,000 [about $325,000] for non-compliance, cut loose misbehaving porn operators from their payment providers, advertisers, and other ancillary services that they use in the UK, or they could be blocked by ISPs—a method that the government's DCMS parliamentary under-secretary Lord Ashton previously insisted" would be used sparingly."

Ars Technica notes that many of these porn sites are not based in the United Kingdom, and that it's going to be hard to implement a policy that people can't work around. But more importantly: For the sites that are forced into compliance, what could potentially happen to that data if it's breached? This isn't just porn purchases being tracked now. It's porn site visits attached to an identifiable person's name:

"Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK's porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style hacks," argued Open Rights Group director Jim Killock.

"The government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age verification providers to protect the privacy of Web users," he said, adding: "There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification."

Let us not forget that May's government has implemented the Investigatory Powers Act, which requires internet providers store users' online histories for access by various government agencies in crime-fighting efforts.

Let us also not forget that even when granting that adults have the right to look at pornography, the U.K. government demands the authority to decide what sort of sexual practices you are allowed to enjoy. The government nanny is not fond of kinksters who get their jollies off naughty fetishes where people do mean things to each other.

Last year Ars Technica documented just how difficult it will actually be for the U.K. to keep people—even those under the age of 18—from accessing internet porn. Read more about it here.




Chuck Schumer Thinks He Needs to Stop You from Shoving Chocolate Up Your Nose

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Apparently some people are snorting raw chocolate powder like it's snuff. Rather than pointing out that chocolate is so much more fun to eat, meddlesome Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) wants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate it. Meet Coko Loko, a snortable raw cacao concoction that also includes caffeine powder and other (perfectly legal) ingredients associated with energy drinks. Given the open and relatively cheap access to these products, it's not exactly clear why anybody would prefer an awkward snuff-influenced delivery system (it's faster, apparently), but that's a marketplace issue. If people want to buy chocolate and snort it up their nose, that's their business. That's not good enough for Schumer. Coco Loko got a recent burst of media publicity, which has prompted Schumer to send a letter to the FDA over the weekend to demand that they do something about people doing things he doesn't want them to. His complaint (via USA Today): "This suspect product has no clear health value," he said in a statement. "I can't think of a single parent who thinks it is a good idea for their children to be snorting over-the-counter stimulants up their noses." It may be a struggle for us to visualize a child who would rather shove chocolate up his or her nose rather than eat it, but we lack the capacity to see the citizenry as a collection of hapless Ralph Wiggums the way Schumer does. Coko Loko is sold online for about $20 per small container, each of which holds about 10 doses; it is also available in some shops. That price is a pretty clear indicator that kids aren't going to be getting their hands on it easily. They can get 15 Kit Kat bars for that! This is not unlike the absurd belief that kids are going to regularly get their hands on costly marijuana edibles that look like candy. But Schumer's "for the children" complaint is really about his regulatory war on powdered caffeine and the general panic about anything that is connected to energy-drink-like concoctions. Reason's Jacob Sullum has regularly taken note of the exaggerated fearmongering around energy drinks. Caffeine powder on its own can potentially be dangerous. But in the case of Coko Loko, we're dealing with much smaller amounts. Apparently the product's creator got the idea from Europe, where snortable cacao is apparently a thing and has been sold there for a while, according to a Denver Post report. The Post already turned to the FDA to see if it is going to meddle in the sales, even before Schumer started yelling about it. It's not yet clear whether the government is going to try to stop you from putting chocolate up your nose, but it is clear that it believes it has the power to do so if it so chooses. Schumer's miserable need to interfere in your consumption choices doesn't end with caffeine. He frequently uses his powerful position as a senator to call for bans on anything he finds troublesome, from laser pointers to violent video games to virtual currencies. Indeed, his inane insistence on the federal government's role in monitoring what people put into their bodies landed him on Reason's list of enemies of freedom. If you're actually curious about Coko Loko, here's a fellow trying it out on YouTube: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/a08ybhnSt5k" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]



Dad Beats the Crap Out of Good Samaritan Who Was Trying to Help His Lost Kid

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 11:16:00 -0400

When a man noticed a little girl wandering by herself near a softball game in Lakeland, Florida, he correctly assumed the child was lost. So he tried to help her find her family. But when the girl's father was alerted by bystanders that some stranger was walking towards the playground with his daughter, the father went and punched the man out. The police report is here. As NBC News describes, "the well-intentioned act was mistaken for a kidnapping attempt." You know why? Because far too many people have a sort of movie-plot scenario on infinite-loop in their brains, telling them that children routinely get abducted in public by strangers. "I saw this man with my daughter in his hands walking toward the parking lot. What would you do?" the father told NBC affiliate WFLA in a phone interview. "I wanted to kill him!" --Thinking they were stopping a crime, the father and two friends approached the stranger: As his friends took the toddler away, the father punched the good Samaritan "probably five or six times," he told WFLA. "I thought he was trying to take my daughter." Perhaps the father was among the 12 million people who watched Joey Salads' video in which he shows how "easy" it is to steal a child from a park—making it seem like this kind of thing is happening all the time. But the Salads video ignores two key facts: Most people do not steal children. It is the rarest of crimes. The tragic but less exciting truth is that our children are in far more danger from people they know than they are from strangers. To make matters worse, even after the police concluded that this was indeed a Good Samaritan trying to help a lost child, the child's father remained defiant and unapologetic about his violent actions: The father and his friends were not satisfied with the man's explanation or that of the police. "So, I guess in Lakeland, you can kidnap a child and get away with it," the father said to police, local media reported. The police report, local media said, described the father as "increasingly agitated." According to WFLA, other media outlets and police, family members and friends went on social media and shared the man's photo, his Facebook page and his place of business, "calling him a child predator," WFLA said. The Good Samaritan, now fearing for his life, has fled town. Meanwhile, the police are reminding the family that, "accounts of this incident have circulated on social media with false information and speculation. Posting false information on Facebook could cause a defamation of character claim and those posting false information could be held [liable]." The whole incident makes you understand this tragic story from 2002. In England, a man named Clive Peachey saw a lost toddler on the side of the road and considered stopping to pick her up and helping her to find her parents. But he drove on. She was not walking straight, she was tottering, said Mr Peachey. "I kept thinking should I go back? One of the reasons I did not go back is because I thought someone would see me and think I was trying to abduct her." The lost toddler later drowned in a pond. To make the world safer for kids, we need to stop viewing all stranger-child interactions as potential crimes.[...]



The Truth About Seattle's Proposed Soda Tax and its Ilk

Sat, 03 Jun 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Seattle lawmakers are expected to vote early next week on a citywide soda tax that would add more than $2.50 to the cost of a twelve-pack of soda. The tax would undoubtedly drive consumers—at least those Seattle residents with cars and Costco memberships, including me—to buy more groceries in the city's suburbs. But Seattle's proposed tax is just one cog in the larger misguided, ongoing campaign against soda by lawmakers in this country. After years of defeats, supporters of soda taxes have scored several recent victories and are increasingly on the attack. "There's an awful lot of things that governments could do, but they will only do it and devote money into it if the public demands it," former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this week in comments on his self-funded anti-soda agenda. "So increasing awareness among the public of what problems they and their children face is a very big deal." That quote's worth a moment of parsing. In the first sentence, Bloomberg is acknowledging the public is not demanding soda taxes. Rather, he is. In the second sentence, Bloomberg is suggesting American families will only know what problems they and their children are facing if a billionaire like him points these problems out to them and ensures their local government taxes them to make those problems somehow vanish through taxation. But most consumers are smarter than that. Voters in Santa Fe, N.M., for example, overwhelmingly rejected a paternalistic soda tax there last month. Back to Seattle, where I spoke out against the proposed tax in a local NPR appearance in March. (I've also written on the topic here countless times.) Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who proposed the city's tax earlier this year, later expanded it to include diet sodas, which he characterized as a way of, er, fighting white privilege. The mayor's actions came after a racial-equity analysis revealed what most people know already: the soda tax would disproportionately target African American and Latino consumers, who are more likely to drink full-calorie sweetened drinks than are white consumers, who are more likely to drink no- or low-calorie sweetened drinks. "The changes were recommendations that emerged when staff from the mayor's office and the office of Councilmember Tim Burgess studied disparate impacts the tax could have on people with low incomes and on people of color, according to Murray," the Seattle Times reported. "The mayor says he decided to include diet drinks to make the tax more fair, because numbers show more wealthy white people drink diet soda, while minorities drink regular soda," reported MyNorthwest. Despite his efforts, the city council rejected Mayor Murray's proposal to expand the soda tax to include diet drinks, and is expected to vote on the measure next week. Two city council members voted against the bill because "they couldn't support a tax that would disproportionately burden low-income people and people of color." Could Mayor Murray veto the bill for the same reason? He should, even if it's unlikely. If the bill were to become law, an interesting angle to any potential lawsuit might be the racially disparate impact of the tax. Who might sue to overturn a soda tax in the city? Opponents of Seattle's proposed soda tax include the Martin Luther King County Labor Council, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and a coalition known as Keep Seattle Livable for All. Seattle's best-known soda company also opposes the tax. "I think it targets one industry unnecessarily so," said Jennifer Cue of Jones Soda, a national craft-soda maker based (at least for now) in Seattle. Cue is right. But there are other very good reasons to oppose soda taxes. For example, some city council members in Seattle are already worried that a tax this high could be repealed by voters. In Philadelphia, where the city's soda tax still faces a strong court challenge, recent reports show revenue raised by the tax may[...]



Mandating Menu Labeling is Foolish, Not 'Easy'

Sat, 27 May 2017 08:00:00 -0400

This week, New York City—the first place in America to require chain restaurants to post calorie information on their menus—expanded the reach of its menu-labeling law. The city is now "the first municipality to require grocery and convenience stores with more than 15 outlets nationwide to clearly display calorie counts for prepared foods and beverages and have additional nutritional information available upon request," reports New York's Fox 5. "The rules will apply to about 1,500 food retailers." This expansion is a microcosm of a larger, ongoing debate in Washington over the fate of federal menu-labeling rules. In a column last month, I correctly predicted the agency responsible for implementing the rules, the FDA, was likely to delay—once again—implementing enforcement of its menu-labeling rules. The agency delayed enforcing the rules—which were mandated by Congress under 2010's Affordable Care Act—for one year, just days before enforcement was set to begin. I oppose mandatory menu labeling for many reasons. For one: it's ineffective. Research has shown that posting mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus doesn't help people make better choices. One key sticking point in Washington is whether the federal rules should apply (as they now do in New York City) to grocery and convenience stores, along with pizza chains. This week, the USA Today editorial board weighed in on the issue. Apparently, the USA Today editors have never seen a less intractable problem than devising and complying with menu-labeling rules. "It's not rocket science," the USA Today editors note. It's "so seemingly simple." Isn't it even a little bit difficult? Nope. "[H]ow hard can it be to post a small sign over each offering with a calorie count?" they ask. "Not very." The alleged simplicity of devising and complying with menu-labeling rules is a common argument in support of them. If it's so easy to provide calorie information, then certainly one place that must have figured it out is the Breaking News Café, located inside USA Today's Mclean, Va. headquarters. I called this week to ask. The woman who answered the switchboard at Gannett (USA Today's parent company) at noon on Thursday said she could not connect me with the cafe because she did not have their updated number. But she volunteered to me that she has not seen calorie information during the times she has been in the Breaking News Café. (She then connected me with catering, where the phone rang a few times before I was disconnected.) I did a bit more poking around. While many of the two-dozen or so photos of the cafe show food on sale, I did not see any calorie counts displayed. Maybe this is because the calorie information just isn't there. Or it could be because the information is present but goes unnoticed (which would track with research that most people don't even see calorie counts on menus, hence defeating their very purpose). Or maybe there's a long, sad trail of unanswered internal memos from USA Today's editors demanding calorie counts be displayed at the Breaking News Café. I don't know. (No one responded to my Thursday email to the editorial board.) One thing I do know, though, is that the USA Today editorial gets at least one key fact wrong about menu labeling when it argues the FDA rules place "no burdens on small business, as the law applies only to chains with 20 or more outlets." As I've written time and again, that's not how it actually works. Franchisees—small-businesspeople who own one or more restaurants that USA Today argues should be subject to the rules, such as your local Domino's franchisee—could be forced to comply with the rules. A small businesswoman who owns one Pizza Hut location, for example, would have to pay perhaps thousands of dollars to buy one or more new menu boards if the FDA applies its rules to small businesses like hers. Ultimately, despite the claims of menu-la[...]



Eating Less Salt Does Not Lower Blood Pressure for Most Americans, Says Yet Another Study

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 15:10:00 -0400

(image) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that "most Americans should consume less sodium." The CDC asserts, "Your body needs a small amount of sodium to work properly, but too much sodium is bad for your health. Excess sodium can increase your blood pressure and your risk for a heart disease and stroke. Together, heart disease and stroke kill more Americans each year than any other cause."

Yet, evidence has been gathering for years that the amount of salt consumed by most Americans is not causing them appreciable harm. A new study that followed more than 2,600 people for 16 years in the Framingham Offspring Study, once again, debunks the Federal nutrition nannies' dire claims about salt. The new results are being reported by at the American Society for Nutrition Scientific Sessions during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting in Chicago.

"We saw no evidence that a diet lower in sodium had any long-term beneficial effects on blood pressure," said Boston University School of Medicine lead researcher Lynn Moore. "Our findings add to growing evidence that current recommendations for sodium intake may be misguided."

The press release announcing the results noted:

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium intake to 2,300 micromilligrams* a day for healthy people. For the study, the researchers followed 2,632 men and women ages 30 to 64 years old who were part of the Framingham Offspring Study. The participants had normal blood pressure at the study's start. However, over the next 16 years, the researchers found that the study participants who consumed less than 2500 milligrams of sodium a day had higher blood pressure than participants who consumed higher amounts of sodium.

Other large studies published in the past few years have found what researchers call a J-shaped relationship between sodium and cardiovascular risk--that means people with low-sodium diets (as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and people with a very high sodium intake (above the usual intake of the average American) had higher risks of heart disease. Those with the lowest risk had sodium intakes in the middle, which is the range consumed by most Americans.

"Our new results support these other studies that have questioned the wisdom of low dietary sodium intakes in the general population," said Moore.

The researchers suggest that some subset of Americans may be especially salt sensitive and would benefit from consuming less. Better tests should be devised to identify such people so that the rest of us can consume our sodium in peace. As always folks, if your goal is to protect your health strive for moderation in what you eat and drink.

For more background on the ongoing collapse of dietary puritanism, see my article "The Red Meat, Eggs, Fat and Salt Diet."

*Press release said "grams," but as astute readers noted, it's really micromilligrams**. Fixed. **Haste makes mistakes.




When Laws Become Partisan Weapons

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

The political culture war briefly erupted yet again last week when Sarah Palin posted a photo of Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, and herself at the White House, mocking defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's official portrait from her years as first lady. At a guess, the eruption over the White House photo was mission accomplished for President Trump's dinner guests. Whatever their past political and musical accomplishments, the trio seemingly exist now primarily to represent their own political tribe and to provoke the opposition. That's a pretty easy gig given that Americans are not only increasingly alienated from each other's politics, but also from each other's lifestyles and cultural markers. You don't have to look too closely to see a disturbing lesson here in how this empowers the country's dominant political tribes to effortlessly taunt each other by waving cultural flags—or putting the legal screws to lifestyle choices that aren't overtly partisan. "For the first time in surveys dating to 1992, majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party," Pew found last summer. "And today, sizable shares of both Democrats and Republicans say the other party stirs feelings of not just frustration, but fear and anger." Anger? How do you get so angry at your neighbors and beer buddies over how they cast their votes? Except that they're not neighbors, they're not buddies, and many members of America's political tribes don't just think differently, they live differently. In the lead up to the presidential election, The Washington Post reported that surprisingly few Trump supporters knew Clinton voters, and vice versa. That seems bizarre until you read that the newspaper's survey "also found cultural differences between Clinton voters and Trump voters, reflected in their ties to guns, gays and even hybrid vehicles," and that "the separation here seeps into the micro level, down to the particular neighborhoods, schools, churches, restaurants and clubs that tend to attract one brand of partisan and repel the other." This continues a phenomenon noted by Bill Bishop, author of the 2008 book, The Big Sort. "Beginning in 1992, the percentage of people living in landslide counties began an upward, stairstep progression," he wrote of Americans' geographical concentration into like-minded communities. But those ideological migrants didn't necessarily check voter registration records and pick houses in neighborhoods with critical masses of Rs or Ds. Instead, they "were reordering their lives around their values, their tastes, and their beliefs. They were clustering in communities of like-mindedness." As it turns out, a preference for living in open spaces tends to correlate with voting Republican, while Democrats have a marked preference for walkable urban neighborhoods. Hobbies, tastes, memberships, and religious practices also take divergent paths. As people settle into these chosen lifestyles-and-politics package deals, they tend to become more like what they've selected and to associate contrasting choices with the "enemy," according to researchers. "When cultural tastes in turn have a reciprocal effect on personal networks, such divisions are likely to be even further exaggerated, leading to a starkly divided world of latte-sipping liberals and bird-hunting conservatives," Daniel DellaPosta, Yongren Shi, and Michael Macy of Cornell University wrote in "Why Do Liberals Drink Lattes?" a paper published in 2015 in the American Journal of Sociology. Which is why Kid Rock, Nugent, and Palin really have to do little more than show up to get opposing tribe members all upset. They're walking red flags to Team Blue. The other side plays the game, too. Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer can relieve their boredom any given day by posting something to Twitter about abortion or guns[...]



Enforcement Looms of FDA's Menu Labeling Regulations

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 08:00:00 -0400

FDA enforcement of its absurd rules governing mandatory calorie menu labeling, passed in 2010 as part of Obamacare, is set to begin on May 5, after years of delays. In 2015, the FDA delayed implementing the rules until December 2016, after the presidential election. At the time, The Hill speculated that a new "Republican president could choose to scrap the rule altogether." That hasn't happened. Yet. But in December 2016 the FDA delayed enforcing the rules until May 5, 2017, which is the deadline that now looms. The FDA interprets its menu-labeling rules as requiring mandatory calorie labeling of most foods sold by "restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods." Owners of more than twenty vending machines must also comply with the rules. The rules would be a disaster. They'll cost at least $1 billion. And if they're grounded in science, that science is shoddy. The purpose of menu-labeling rules in general is to help consumers make smarter (read: lower-calorie) choices. But the very premise that mandatory menu labeling accomplishes this is flawed. Research demonstrates that menu labeling doesn't improve consumer food choices. That's something I first noted here in 2011, and which subsequent reports have also shown (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). So can the rules be stopped? Yes. Congress could act by repealing or amending the menu-labeling rules. Or food sellers whose First Amendment rights would be violated by rules that compel speech for no constitutionally supported reason could ask a court to halt implementation of the rules. Or the FDA could delay the rules from taking effect. Each of these is possible. But how likely are these outcomes? While the clock is ticking, furious efforts are underway to halt the rules. Earlier this year, Congress introduced a bill supported by the American Pizza Community, an advocacy group that includes pizza companies like Domino's and Pizza Hut. The bill, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, would exempt most pizza-delivery companies and delay implementation of the menu-labeling rules by at least two years. A comparable bill passed out of the House last year but died in the Senate. While pizza makers are working in Congress, two other groups that oppose the law, the National Grocers Association and National Association of Convenience Stores, petitioned the FDA this month in an effort to delay or halt implementation of the rules. The petitioners argue compliance with the "unworkable" rules is impossible; that the costs of complying are exorbitant and far exceed FDA estimates; that the FDA exceeded its authority in adopting the rules; that the rules run afoul of the First Amendment; and that the rules are "inconsistent with the [Trump] Administration's agenda to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens on business." Pushing back against these efforts is the voice of the restaurant industry—the National Restaurant Association—a staunch supporter of the FDA menu-labeling rules. That stance might surprise some—if for no other reason than that it's got some basis beyond rent-seeking. "With more and more states adopting their own menu-labeling rules, the National Restaurant Association... sought a shield against this death by 1,000 cuts by pushing for one uniform national menu-labeling rule," I explained in a 2013 column. Will one or more of the aforementioned approaches succeed in stymying the rules from taking effect on May 5? Repeal seems like something Congress won't stomach. Consider that the GOP's ham-fisted attempts to repeal, replace, or rename (or whatever) the Affordable Care Act completely ignored the ACA's menu-labeling provis[...]



NYC Mayor Encourages Cigarette Smuggling with Plan to Massively Jack Up Prices

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 16:45:00 -0400

Who knew New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was such an open supporter of black markets? Today de Blasio announced that he wants to make smuggling an even more financially lucrative option by jacking up the taxes on packs of cigarettes. Right now the lowest price for a pack of cigarettes in the city is $10.50 a pack. Under his proposal announced today the floor would jump to $13 a pack, the highest in the country. By sheer coincidence (if you are completely ignorant to even the most basic concepts of economics), New York has the highest rate of cigarette smuggling in the country. Though figures are hard to nail down—black markets, being what they are—stats suggest that more than half of all cigarettes are being sold illegally and untaxed in New York. Bootlegging of cigarettes (and alcohol, also highly taxed in New York) costs the state nearly $2 billion in tax revenue each year. Why, de Blasio's plan is almost insidiously libertarian—to deprive the state of tax revenue by pushing more and more people to participate in the black market instead of paying exorbitantly high, market-distorting costs for goods. (Small correction/clarification here: De Blasio isn't raising the taxes on cigarettes because that's actually under the control of the state. These are price controls. I've updated some subsequent sentences to reflect that.) Setting the sarcasm aside now: De Blasio is not, in fact, in favor of black markets and evading taxes. This is not some clever Ron Swanson destroy-the-state-from-within plan. His announcement today is part of a Nanny State plan to try to reduce the number of smokers in the city of New York. That this is a regressive move that makes it harder for poorer New York City residents to buy smokes is, just like soda taxes, partly the point. It's true that you get less of what you tax or punish. It's also true that it gets you black markets, be it drugs, cigarettes, or cheap labor that works for cash. So the logical outcome here is that more poor people who want to continue smoking will continue looking for the cheaper cigarettes that get smuggled into the state. In order to make this plan "work" the way the city wants it to (either people smoke less or pay more) it's going to be necessary to figure out how to increase enforcement of these price minimums. And that is going to ultimately lead to more encounters between New York City's enforcement folks (as in, police) and the possibility that more of de Blasio's citizens are treated the way Eric Garner was treated. If my Twitter feed is an indication, people have not forgotten that just a few years ago, New York police killed Eric Garner because he was uncooperative when they attempted to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes. De Blasio is fully on board with the concept of "broken windows" policing, where authorities aggressively attack low-level crime under the (disputed) claim it helps prevent more serious incidents. The combination of policies that encourage the black market and policies that encourage police enforcement of low-level laws creates the framework for yet another Garner to happen down the line. Though we might not know when it happens if nobody's around to catch it on video again. Also not helping matters: The officer responsible for Garner's death had a record of complaints and is still employed by the NYPD, and the city is becoming less and less transparent about police misconduct. It's fun to joke about black markets and the economic illiteracy of public officials like de Blasio, but the potential for this pricing plan to lead to even more official violence directed toward citizens is no laughing matter.[...]



Brickbat: Without a Paddle

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) In Florida, a panel appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering whether to recommend that canoes, kayaks, and other water craft that don't require a motor to be licensed.




Brickbat: All You Can Drink

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) France has banned restaurants and other places that sell drinks containing sugar or other sweeteners from offering free refills of those drinks. Some restaurants have already removed or moved their drink fountains, while Five Guys has placed microchips on drink cups that switch off their drink fountains if someone tries to refill a cup. The ban is aimed at fighting obesity.




Brickbat: Don't Touch That!

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Two Washington state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make it illegal even to touch your phone while driving. The bill would also more than double the fine for distracted driving to $350 from $124.




Brickbat: For Your Protection

Tue, 17 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) A New York law supporters said would protect boxers is killing the sport in the state. The law, passed last year, requires $1 million insurance for each boxer on a card to cover life-threatening brain injuries. Promoters say they can afford that for big championship fights but not for the small, local shows that are the lifeblood of the sport.