California trans fats: Terminator Nanny

by Walter Olson on July 25, 2008

Governor Schwarzenegger has signed into law the first statewide ban on the use of the maligned ingredient by restaurants and food service facilities. (Samantha Sondag, “Gov. signs nation’s first statewide ban on trans fats in restaurants”, San Francisco Chronicle, Jul. 25).

P.S. Speaking of the nanny state in California, Los Angeles is moving to ban new fast food restaurants from poorer sections of South Central L.A. on the explicitly paternalistic grounds that it knows better than local residents what they should be eating. Prof. Bainbridge has more.

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07.26.08 at 8:24 am

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1 spyglass 07.26.08 at 12:09 am

I think we should parachute free donuts made with transfats all over Iran It would kill them all without a shot being fired. Or we could wipe them all out with second hand smoke.

2 Sean 07.26.08 at 1:01 pm

They actually got a legislator to say on record that this bill was necessary because minorities were fat and it was the government’s job to tell them what is good for them.

3 Mary 07.27.08 at 3:58 am

As a CA native and lifelong resident, I applaud this. We lead the way where others fear to tread. We want healthier people, of ALL social classes. Yeah, I’m obese. Yeah, I read labels and am educated enough to avoid trans fats. There are those who are not. And my tax dollars (and those from other state programs) will end up paying for the Medi-Cal healthcare deficit for people who do not choose to educate themselves. Is it a Nanny state? Fine. I’d rather not have to worry about what’s in my restaurant meal. Complaining people in other states, bug off — or rather, follow our example.

You think the state/Governor are acting as ‘parents’ — um, don’t most parents know what’s good for you and help guide you there?

4 Richard Nieporent 07.27.08 at 9:32 am

Yeah, I’m obese. Yeah, I read labels and am educated enough to avoid trans fats. There are those who are not. And my tax dollars (and those from other state programs) will end up paying for the Medi-Cal healthcare deficit for people who do not choose to educate themselves.

You do realize the health consequences of being obese Mary, don’t you? And from your comment I am sure that you wouldn’t want the rest of the residents of California paying for your inability to control your weight. Thus I am sure you would applaud the state passing a law that would mandate that you lose weight. The state could set up an agency with powers to arrest obese people and send them to weight loss camps. Weight Watchers would take on a whole new meaning for the residents of California.

5 VMS 07.27.08 at 10:00 am

The old days of “larding up” the donut fryer are gone. In general, I am against the government telling the people what to do. But, on the other hand, I want some assurance, beyond what can be offered without governmental intervention, that when I go into a restaurant I am not eating foods fried in Mobil oil. Unfortunately, the free market has its inefficiencies, and cannot properly regulate certain things relating to health or safety.

The free market model assumes perfect consumer knowledge. This is approached , for example, when Farmer Jones is considering the purchase of an axe and is choosing between two equivalent models, one with a wooden handle for $25.00 and one with a fiberglass handle for $30.00. He can then make a decision on whether to pay more for an “unbreakable” handle, his personal preference in the “feel” of the handle, how it looks, or any other factors or combination that he deems relevant. In this example, Farmer Jones can properly do a cost-benefit analysis as it suits him, and make the “ideal” personal decision on both objective and subjective factors.

On the other hand, when there are complex decisions that need to be made such as whether to approve a drug as “safe and effective,” an individual consumer cannot possibly have the requisite information to make such a judgment. Private certification is an option, but the inefficiencies of the private market taking over outweigh having one FDA (which with a few exceptions does a very good job). The same is true for whether to allow transfats in foods served in a restaurant. Homer Simpson may have the requisite knowledge on what tastes best, but he does not have the knowledge that certain ingredients may have a deleterious effect on his long term cardiac health, and therefore he cannot properly weigh the alternatives.

I can see a problem with the “slippery slope.” When will it stop? If the government deemed it desirable that everyone should eat salads, fish and drink skim milk—and not eat junk food, red meat, or drink beer, the outcry would be deafening. In contrast, the transfat ban is transparent to the consumer. I for one, cannot tell the difference between foods fried in transfat laden oil or those fried in a more healthful alternative, and the difference, if any, in the cost of the oil should be negligible. The manufacturers of the “bad” oils may feel a pinch in the short term, but switching over to a more healthful product seems doable.

6 skinnyminny 07.28.08 at 12:28 pm

No wonder our state can’t come up with a balanced budget. They’re too busy making more important decisions like this one.

Banning trans fats is like a grain of sand on the beach. If they really want to make a difference, the government should devote their time and efforts to outlawing deep fryers.

I refuse to believe that Americans are so stupid that they honestly think fried chicken and cheeseburgers are part of a healthy diet. Give us a little credit. And promote accountability by giving some benefit to those of us who devote the time and expense to a healthy diet and regular exercise. It’s not cheap or easy, but it’s the right choice, and those of us who do it are being punished for our prudence. I’m tired of paying the same rate for my medical insurance as the couch potato who chain-smokes and lives off McDonald’s. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

(P.S. Growing up in the biscuits-and-gravy culture of Tennessee, I can tell you that poverty is no excuse for eating poorly or being sedentary.)

7 Steve 07.28.08 at 3:30 pm

The last few commenters don’t see the folley behind their reasoning. They are well intentioned, but miss the point of freedom. I choose what I do and don’t want for myself and my family. And I take all responsibilities that go with those decisions.

The slippery slope has long since passed. Most of the reasoning behind these types of laws is based entirely on the fact that the government is responsible for those they are “helping” so they need to step in and act like parents. Social programs beget social programs.

As long As the gov keeps saying that they will provide health care to them(for FREE!), then the gov believes(and rightly so) that it should allow or prohibit the activity.

How would you separate those that are responsible and those that are not? You can’t!! So, we all lose.

99% of social programs could be discarded and we would be much better off.

8 Deoxy 07.29.08 at 10:20 am

99% of social programs could be discarded and we would be much better off.

By dollars spent, that might be a bit high – the few worth saving generally receive a good chunk of the funding.

By raw number of programs, on the other hand, your number would be far, FAR too low – add a decimal point a a few ninces, and then we’ll talk.

And I agree with your first point, andhaving been making it for some time, now: if you are responsible for something, you should have authority over it, and we have made the government responsible for us.

Sadly, too many people seem not to care.

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