Everyone understands by now that trans-fatty acids create an avoidable health risk for people who ingest them on a regular basis. It causes heart disease, among other problems, and the Food and Drug Administration acted to ensure that Americans could track the amount of trans fats in their food by requiring manufacturers to reveal the amounts of trans fats on labels. That requirement pressured the manufacturers to find ways to reduce trans fats in their products, fearful of the market reaction when consumers became more informed of the composition of the food.
However, New York City decided that consumers and food preparers couldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions. The health board imposed trans-fat limits on restaurants in the Big Apple, transforming the debate from health to politics:
City health officials maintained on Tuesday that they could not have suggested more strongly a year ago that restaurants voluntarily cut trans fats from their menus. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is overseen by the Board of Health, said it had sent out mass mailings and trained thousands of restaurant operators in the perils of trans fats — but to no avail.
About half of the city’s 20,000 restaurants still serve trans fats in quantities that pose a public health risk, the department said.
Its proposed restriction is described on the department’s Web site, nyc.gov/health, which also provides instructions on how people can submit their comments on the proposal in writing, or attend a public hearing on Oct. 30. After the public feedback, the Board of Health, which is made up of mayoral appointees who can enact the proposal without the consent of other city agencies, is to take final vote in December.
This is what happens when people make the mistake of transforming what should be a personal decision into a government diktat. In the first case, trans fats are not a public health hazard. The risk is incurred personally, not publicly, and it’s taken by adults making their own decisions about their food intake. Public health risks should be defined as to be limited to that which affects the public outside their control, such as epidemics, pollution, and the like.
Otherwise, we will start seeing all sorts of new prohibitions in New York City. Alcohol in anything but the most moderate amounts are a private health risk, and the results of inebriation have a lot more public impact than the ingestion of a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Does the health board plan to prohibit the sale of alcohol in restaurants as well?
Beware the government that takes these kinds of personal choices away from citizens in the name of protecting them. It will not be long before the next health fad strikes NYC’s consciousness, and the precedent will now exist for them to dictate food recipes to address any concern. For instance, I have a friend whose son has a severe peanut allergy, which literally could kill him in a few minutes. Some restaurants have warning signs for people so that those with this potentially deadly allergy can avoid exposure. Will New York ban peanuts and peanut products in restaurants? After all, peanuts can kill, and apparently people can’t be trusted to make their own decisions on food intake.
This kind of government intervention will go beyond food preparation if left unchecked. The impulse to remove choice for the good of the people is not limited to health concerns. New Yorkers should balk at these new laws that treat them as imbeciles not because eating trans fats doesn’t pose a risk, but to limit the reach of a government that is intent on eliminating their personal freedoms. Disclosure of the personal risk should be sufficient for adults to act in their own interests. Declaring the personal public sets a precedent that will eventually eliminate all distinctions between the two.