The Food Police Turn to the Bottleby Logan Albright
Apr. 23, 2014
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Continuing my "meddling bureaucrats trying to tell us what to eat" series, I recently discovered that the FDA is planning to start requiring nutrition labels on alcoholic beverages. Apparently they are worried that sorority girls pounding cosmos might be getting a little more sugar than they ought to, and that the presence of a small label on the side of a bottle of Cointreau is going to make them make more responsible choices. Note that the alcohol is not what the problem here, it's the sugar. That is the state of America's priorities in the "through the looking glass" world of the FDA.
Of course, we all know that making people healthier is really the last thing these regulators care about. This is, and always has been, about control. It is hip to blame sugar for all of society's ills these days, so by God, the government has to step in and take away people's fun.
The amazing thing in this particular case is not the stupidity of the regulation, or the fact that the FDA is attempting to solve a problem that doesn't exist – these things are par for the course when it comes to government – but how open and honest the bureaucrats are being about their motives.
"I’m a fan of transparency when it comes to labeling the amount of calories in beverages," says dietician Rachel Berman, describing the challenges of the FDA implementing their scheme. "However, including nutrients like fat and protein may make it a bit tricky, since the presence of those nutrients may make alcohol look healthful."
Did you catch that? She flat out admitted that she doesn't care about giving consumers accurate information so that they can make informed choices, but instead just wants to make alcohol look bad. News flash: we know alcohol is not good for us. We've known it for hundreds of years. We drink it anyway because we think a pleasant, enjoyable life is worth the cost of facing a few health risks. Nothing has changed, except the government's increasingly bold efforts to control every aspect of our lives.
The anti-GMO campaign employs similar tactics, disingenuously claiming the motive of just keeping people informed, while in reality trying to scare people away from a product that they personally don't like.
Of course, I could make all the boilerplate arguments about how these regulations increase costs for producers, which lead to increased costs for consumers, and how the FDA uses nuisance regulations to harm certain industries, but those have been made before and while true, they are frankly not that interesting unless you are a utilitarian, which I am not.
The state has no right to dictate to companies what they must and must not put on their packaging. So long as fraud is not being committed, such requirements amount to nothing more than than discriminatory bullying to try to advance an agenda. If information such as sugar content is valued by the consumer, the mechanism of competition will drive companies to include it on their product. Even if they do not do so, third party databases of nutritional content are readily available online to anyone who cares to look. Labeling requirements are unnecessary, unproductive, and an unethical attempt to manipulate companies and consumers alike.
Logan Albright is a writer and economist in Washington, DC.