Two of my enduring interests — excessive government regulation and the quest for truly scrumptious cinnamon buns — intersect here in a single story from Denmark. [Guardian]:
…scientists have now discovered that too much of the most commonly used type of cinnamon, cassia, can cause liver damage thanks to high levels of coumarin, a natural ingredient found in the spice.
The EU has accordingly decreed that coumarin levels must be kept below 50 mg per kg in “traditional” or “seasonal” foodstuffs eaten only occasionally, and 15 mg per kg in everyday “fine baked goods.”
Last month, the Danish food authority ruled that the nation’s famous cinnamon swirls were neither traditional nor seasonal, thus limiting the quantity of cinnamon that bakers are allowed to use, placing the pastry at risk – and sparking a national outcry that could be dubbed the great Danish bake strop.
The president of the Danish Bakers’ Association, Hardy Christensen, said: “We’ve been making bread and cakes with cinnamon for 200 years. Then suddenly the government says these pastries are not traditional? I have been a baker for 43 years and never come across anything like this – it’s crazy. Using lower amounts of the spice will change the distinctive flavour and produce less tasty pastries. Normally, we do as we’re told by the government and say OK, but now it’s time to take a stand. Enough is enough.”
Meanwhile: Anonymous informant shuts down school bus cookie lady in Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen, Minn. [MPR, AP]
Apparently following a complaint from a local restaurateur, provincial authorities have cracked down on a pay-what-you-can informal supper club organized by High River resident Paula Elliot. “AHS shut her down … informing her they don’t approve of people sharing food. They were equally heavy handed when she tried to give away edibles to stranded flood refugees at evacuation centers.” [Jen Gerson, National Post]
CBS New York reports breathlessly on underground dinner parties in New York — people invite strangers into their homes! And charge them money! — and quotes an ex-official who says it should be illegal unless they get a restaurant-type license. [CBS New York (auto-plays video ad), Shackford] Radley Balko, on Twitter: “Reporter astonished that New Yorkers invite people into their homes for dinner without notifying the local politburo.” More: J.D. Tuccille.
I’m back from a speaking swing through Nebraska. At the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, I spoke about food and drink paternalism as exemplified by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiatives in New York, with Prof. Steven Willborn providing a counterpoint from a more liberal perspective. At Creighton University Law School in Omaha, I spoke (as I often do) on the ideological state of the law schools, drawing on my 2011 book Schools for Misrule, with commentary from Profs. Ralph Whitten and Sara Stadler.
Both events were well attended but I was especially pleased at the strong turnout for the talk in Lincoln on food and the nanny state, a new speech I hadn’t tried out before on a general audience. Here’s a description:
The public is increasingly in revolt against “nanny state” interventions, from Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in New York, to efforts to ban Happy Meals in San Francisco. Some thinkers dismiss concern about paternalism as merely trivial and personal, not on a par with issues acknowledged as “serious” such as police abuse, free speech, surveillance, and the proper functioning of the legal system. Left unchecked, however, the project of paternalism quickly generates very serious problems in each of those other areas: it gives police and enforcers great arbitrary power, hands a special government megaphone to some speakers while stifling others, funnels uncomfortably personal information into government hands, and fuels abusive litigation. No matter what you think of potato chips, if your interests are in liberty and good government, you should be paying attention.
I’m next scheduled to speak on the food police Sept. 23 at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion with Baylen Linnekin, Nita Ghei, and J. Justin Wilson, hosted by Daren Bakst. Details here. More on my fall speaking schedule here.
Both houses of the legislature in Connecticut have approved legislation aimed at requiring the labeling of (near-ubiquitous) foodstuffs with genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. The Senate’s version includes an “all jump off together” clause preventing it from going into effect until at least four states have joined in on the idea, which must cumulatively have a population of at least 20 million, and must include at least one state adjacent to Connecticut. [Greenwich Time, Ron Bailey, related ("food companies should just go ahead and slap labels on everything they sell reporting: 'This product may contain ingredients derived from safe modern biotechnology.'")] Earlier here (NY Times is surprisingly sensible on subject), here, here, here, etc.
“Dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger was acquitted on three of four criminal charges early Saturday morning in a trial that drew national attention from supporters of the raw, unpasteurized milk movement.” Hershberger sold his products through what he characterized as a consumer buying club, but prosecutors charged that the set-up was too much like a retail store, with price stickers and a cash register; Wisconsin law bans the sale of raw milk products through a retail store. “‘This is as close to Prohibition as anything I have ever seen, but this time it’s milk and an Amish farmer, rather than liquor and gangsters,’ [defense attorney Glenn] Reynolds said.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel; Ryan Ekvall, Reason]
Traditional refillable open-spouted vessels and dipping bowls will need to give way to “pre-packaged, factory bottles with a tamper-proof dispensing nozzle and labeling in line with EU industrial standards.” [Bruno Waterfield, Daily Telegraph] In perhaps not unrelated news, a new poll finds Euroskepticism strong in the U.K. [Telegraph]:
When voters are asked the exact question Conservatives want to put to the public in the 2017 referendum, “Do you think that the UK should remain a member of the EU?”, 46 per cent opt to come out, a higher figure than in other recent polls, while just 30 per cent want to stay in.
Update: May 23 (proposal dropped).
“The U.S. FDA announced a plan to investigate and potentially regulate caffeine.” [James Hamblin, The Atlantic; Baylen Linnekin, Reason]
“[T]here is no reliable evidence that genetically modified foods now on the market pose any risk to consumers,” says an editorial in, of all places, the New York Times. ["Why Label Genetically Engineered Food?"]
And while on the subject of publications outperforming expectations, Slate features a sober look at “cancer clusters,” with George Johnson reviewing a new book on the Toms River, N.J. episode.
How ketchup baron H.J. Heinz became the “main force behind the passage of the Pure Food Law of 1906″ [Tim Carney, Washington Examiner]