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obesity

Last month the Cato Institute hosted a panel celebrating Repeal Day
with me, alcohol policy expert Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Stacia Cosner of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Cato Digital Marketing Manager Kat Murti as moderator.

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, supposedly ending our nation’s failed experiment with prohibitionism. Yet, 81 years later, modern-day prohibitionists continue to deny the laws of supply and demand, attempting to control what individuals can choose to put into their own bodies….

Some links related to the discussion:

  • All the panelists quoted from Daniel Okrent’s excellent history of Prohibition, Last Call. You can find out more about the book at the author’s site.
  • I quote from a speech by the late Christopher Hitchens delivered ten years almost to the day before our panel. It is excerpted in this David Boaz post.
  • Radley Balko wrote a 2003 Cato Policy Analysis, “Back Door to Prohibition: The New War on Social Drinking“. More: The federal Centers for Disease Control, as I noted, has been an agency of choice for public health campaigners because of its legacy of scientific credibility, yet this credibility is itself put increasingly at risk as the CDC lends its name to propaganda. Jacob Sullum provides examples from the agency’s elastic application of the term “binge drinking” to the trouble it seems to have acknowledging that minor alcohol consumption does not seem to correlate with poor health outcomes;
  • As I mention, the Prohibition episode was important in eroding constitutional protections against various law-enforcement tools, especially search and seizure, the law being inherently aimed at contraband goods. The same is true of the nascent Drug War undertaken following the Harrison narcotics act of 1914. You can read about one of the resulting Supreme Court cases here.
  • The role of exorbitant cigarette taxes in contributing to New York’s giant black market in cigarettes came to wider public notice following the police custody death of Eric Garner on Staten Island; more here, here, etc. The New York Post reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city law department to refrain from filing an intended press release over a would-be landmark suit filed over untaxed cigarettes the week of the Garner grand jury decision, because it interfered with City Hall’s efforts to downplay the role of the tobacco black market.

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Food and beverage roundup

by Walter Olson on December 26, 2014

Another hidden gift inside the Affordable Care Act: mandatory calorie labeling for many restaurant menus. Walter Olson comments on the complications and potential unintended consequences of such a mandate.

My new Cato podcast: the new FDA calorie labeling rules apply to not-so-big chains (20 +) of grocery stores and amusement facilities as well as restaurants, and make it less likely that servers and local managers will manage to vary from rigidly standardized recipes, menu listings and portion sizes based on knowledge of their local customers, temporary availability of attractive ingredients, and so forth. That won’t matter much for food servers who already design their offerings in a lab, but spells trouble for those whose offerings are more localized or unpredictable (earlier). Coverage by Ed Morrissey of what the scheme would mean for a 21-unit pizza chain is linked here.

In January, David Boaz commented on the parallel vending machine calorie label mandate:

In my experience, vending machines shuffle their offerings fairly frequently. If the machine operators have to change the calorie information displayed every time they swap potato chips for corn chips, then $2,200 [per operator per year] seems like a conservative estimate of costs. But then, as Hillary Clinton said when it was suggested that her own health care plan would bankrupt small businesses, “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

More: Baylen Linnekin. And Julie Gunlock recalls her own days working in a supermarket deli. Goodbye, making up prepared salads in single-serving containers from whatever produce happened to be in overstock at the time. Hello, food waste!

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on October 24, 2014

September 16 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 16, 2014

  • “When I asked them why they decided to sell their [toy import] business, they said that they got out because of Proposition 65 and the CPSIA.” [Nancy Nord]
  • State tax regimes are getting more aggressive about grabbing money earned in other states [Steve Malanga, City Journal]
  • “Still can’t get over the fact that all [development] permits are discretionary in San Francisco” [@TonyBiasotti linking Mark Hogan, Boom]
  • How would American politics change if political parties could expel members, as in many countries they can? [Bryan Caplan]
  • Defenders of Wisconsin John Doe prosecutor push back against Stuart Taylor investigation [Daniel Bice, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via Althouse, more, related on "blue fist" posters and John Doe investigator, earlier]
  • “In Britain, Child’s Weight Leads to Parents’ Arrest” [New York Times in June, King's Lynn 11-year-old; also, Cadbury agrees to "stop making chocolate bars in Britain with more than 250 calories"] More: Pencil-twirling in class leads to CPS referral in New Jersey [Katherine Mangu-War, Reason]
  • Should there be judicial remedies — what kind, and for which plaintiffs — when federal spending is politicized? [Daniel Epstein, Federalist Society "Engage"]

Remember when a lot of us predicted this would happen? And advocates were dismissive? WSJ reportage:

A federal law that aims to curb childhood obesity means that, in dozens of states, bake sales must adhere to nutrition requirements that could replace cupcakes and brownies with fruit cups and granola bars. … The restrictions that took effect in July stem from the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by first lady Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move!” campaign. …

[The law] allowed for “infrequent” fundraisers, and states were allowed to decide how many bake sales they would have that didn’t meet nutrition standards. …

While about half the states have taken advantage of exceptions, given the political pressure, the trend is toward narrowing or eliminating them. Texas, for example, has done away with a former variance that allowed three fundraisers a year selling forbidden foods. Among the most drearily predictable results: schools are shifting more toward pre-portioned processed food, which has standardized calorie and nutrition content, and avoiding the homemade and informal.

P.S. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article suggests that because of the narrowing exceptions noted above, because kids can still distribute “order forms for sweets such as Girl Scout cookies” (as opposed to the cookies themselves) during school hours, because after-hours athletic events and the like aren’t covered, and so forth, there really is no story here and critics are being unreasonable.

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on July 24, 2014

Food roundup

by Walter Olson on June 16, 2014

  • The federal school lunch initiative as experienced by school districts in rural New York [Sarah Harris, North Country Public Radio]
  • Europe’s Ugly Fruit movement wants to reclaim for consumers tons of food rejected for appearance, sometimes by marketers and sometimes by regulators [NYT]
  • Expect uptick in food labeling suits after Supreme Court decision approving suit in Pom Wonderful v. Coca-Cola [Glenn Lammi, WLF; FedSoc Blog; more, Mayer Brown]
  • “Biggest secret” of glutamic acid, of umami and MSG fame, “may be that there was never anything wrong with it at all” [BuzzFeed]
  • Cottage food win: New Jersey lawmakers unanimously back right to sell homemade goodies [Institute for Justice]
  • Celebrity-driven “Fed Up” film is “strident stalking-horse for a Bloombergian agenda” [Jeff Stier, Baylen Linnekin]
  • Young persons, especially college students, drink much more than they used to. Right? Wrong [Michelle Minton, Andrew Stuttaford]

Food roundup

by Walter Olson on May 8, 2014

  • “Particularly relevant …is the uncontested fact that Defendants – as manufacturers of [high-fructose corn syrup] – do not control how much HFCS is used in the finished products that Plaintiff consumed.” [New York federal court dismissing case, h/t Nicki Neily]
  • New frontier of public health disapproval: Girl Scout cookies [NPR]
  • “Former Kellogg Co. CEO Carlos Gutierrez says food industry is under attack by FDA” [MLive]
  • Whole milk, least processed of widely available milk varieties, would be banned in Connecticut childcares if pending bill passes [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
  • House-passed expansion of Jones Act domestic-flag rules for food aid would harm hungry recipients and US farmers alike [Coyote]
  • “Archaic distribution laws” hamper craft-beer sector [Steve Hindy, NY Times, related Nick Gillespie (Florida)]
  • Facing mounting fiasco in school lunch program, feds double down [Baylen Linnekin, Reason]

Food roundup

by Walter Olson on March 17, 2014

  • Warnings dismissed at time: FDA rules implementing FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) of 2011 imperil practices common to organic, small growers, “such as using house-made fertilizers and irrigating from creeks” [Los Angeles Times] Oh, how D.C.’s “public-interest” establishment and its co-thinkers in the press jeered when we and others tried to raise such concerns before the bill passed!
  • Related: pursuit of locally grown/artisanal meat options collides with USDA regs that put squeeze on small slaughterhouses, overbroad recalls also a problem [Baylen Linnekin, earlier here, here, and here]
  • “America’s Obesity Problem: Legal Mechanisms for Prevention,” Duke Law School conference I spoke at (but did not write a paper for) last year, now online [Duke Forum for Law and Social Change].
  • Related: “Wellness programs addressing obesity could lead to litigation, lawyers say” [ABA Journal]
  • Looser regulation of microbrewing has already proved boon to Maryland, lawmakers now consider extending it further [Beth Rodgers, Frederick News-Post]
  • “Bill introduced to undo California’s ‘glove law’ for food preparers” [KPCC; earlier]
  • Sorry, I’ll stay home and thumb through old cookbooks instead: recent American Studies Association Food Studies Caucus program included “Food, Debt, and the Anti-Capitalist Imagination,” “Archives of Domesticity and Dissent: Cookbooks, Cooking Culture, and the Limits of Culinary Exchange,” and “Pedagogies of Food and Eating: Teaching Debt, Dissent, and Identity through Food” [Mary Grabar, Pope Center on "food studies" fad]

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“Even pictures of food [at schools] have to have the federal government’s stamp of approval.” [Scott Shackford, Reason]

P.S. Speaking of marketing and paternalism, here’s Ann Althouse on the latest horrible Mark Bittman column.

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“Lawyers are pitching state attorneys general in 16 states with a radical idea: make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs. … So far none have agreed to sign on.” One hope: the theory popularized by former FDA chief David Kessler that bacon, brownies and buttered popcorn should be seen as “addictive.” Paul McDonald, a Chicago lawyer who is organizing the campaign, is described as a former “senior counsel at Kraft Foods.” [Helena Bottemiller Evich, Politico]

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You can watch here (earlier). Related videos, including those of the other panelists, at the American Bar Association site.

Meanwhile, even former enthusiasts are beginning to give up on the “food deserttheory — opening a supermarket nearby does little to change unhealthy diet habits. So guess what’s next? Yep, calls for more and stronger intervention [Ann Althouse].

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Stephanie Francis Ward at the ABA Journal covers the panel discussion I participated in yesterday on local paternalism at the ABA Midyear in Chicago. The other panelists were Prof. Sarah Conly of Bowdoin College, author of Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, and Chicago Alderman George Cardenas, sponsor of a proposal to tax soft drink sales in the city. It was hosted by the ABA’s Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division and moderated by Hawaii land use lawyer Robert Thomas, who has much more at his Inverse Condemnation blog.

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See you there? Quoting Hawaii lawyer Robert Thomas at the Inverse Condemnation blog:

Next Thursday, February 6, 2014, we’ll be in Chicago to moderate an American Bar Association discussion/debate on a topic that’s not our usual takings-eminent domain-land use stuff, but is still one of the hotter topics around. “They’ll Take My Big Gulp From My Cold Dead Hands” is an hour-and-a-half with three experts in “Public Health, the Police Power, and the Nanny State,” to quote our subtitle. (Yes, we realize that New York City’s ban actually exempted Big Gulps® but hey, it’s a catchy title.)

Joining me for the discussion:

*Walter Olson, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. While his list of accomplishments is long, we lawyers love him best for his “Overlawyered” blog.

*Sarah Conly, Professor of Philosophy at Bowdoin College. Author of “Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism,” forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

*Alderman George Cardenas, who represents the City of Chicago’s 12th Ward. Among other issue, Alderman Cardenas has proposed raising the smoking age to 21, and to tax sugary drinks.
Here’s the description of the program:

A moderated panel discussion of the issues raised by New York City’s attempt to regulate the portion size of sugary drinks, and similar measures around the country. Advocates from both sides of the issue will present their rationales, and legal scholars and media commentators will provide the larger picture. The panelists will be comparing various state and federal approaches with the common question: what limits on personal choice can be adopted in the name of public health, the environment, and the traditional police powers exercised by governments? How do these measures work with a federal system where local regulation may conflict with state and federal laws, or at the very least may conflict — at least philosophically — with subsidies to sugar and corn producers, and protective tariffs?

It’s sponsored by the ABA’s State and Local Government Law section, and CLE credit will be provided.

It’s coming as part of ObamaCare (earlier here and here) and it might wind up restricting consumer choice [AP]:

The rules will apply to about 10,800 companies that operate 20 or more machines. Nearly three quarters of those companies have three or fewer employees, and their profit margin is extremely low, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association. …

Some companies may use electronic displays to post calorie counts while others may opt for signs stuck to the machines.

Carol Brennan, who owns Brennan Food Vending Services in Londonderry, [N.H.,] said she doesn’t yet know how she will handle the regulations, but she doesn’t like them. She has five employees servicing hundreds of machines and says she’ll be forced to limit the items offered so her employees don’t spend too much time updating the calorie counts.

David Boaz comments:

In my experience, vending machines shuffle their offerings fairly frequently. If the machine operators have to change the calorie information displayed every time they swap potato chips for corn chips, then $2,200 [per operator per year] seems like a conservative estimate of costs. But then, as Hillary Clinton said when it was suggested that her own health care plan would bankrupt small businesses, “I can’t be responsible for every undercapitalized small business in America.”

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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]

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Banker: “It should be illegal to start bank runs by spreading mistaken alarms about deposit soundness.”

Ag guy: “It should be illegal to falsely impugn the safety of America’s food supply.”

Hollywood celeb: “It should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV.

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