Banning trans fats won’t be in the end of freedom

Ever wonder what people eat at the FDA? I mean, what sort of stuff do they look for at lunchtime? What can the average FDA employee find in the vending machines in down the hall?

H. Kenneth Woods

I ask this because some people are reacting to the FDA’s decision to ban trans fats as the first step toward outlawing sugar, salt, cigarettes, pizza or anything else that would ruin Super Bowl Sunday for Americans.

Frankly, the inclusion of cigarettes in that list ought to tell you something. There are few products in America that are more genuinely considered culturally inappropriate in public. If the government hasn’t found a way yet to outlaw them completely, I think the other stuff is fairly safe for a while.

But my point about the FDA lunchroom is that, hard as it may be to believe, the folks who work there are human beings. They must be motivated by the same things that motivate the rest of us, even if they might be a little more wonkish and data-based than the rest of us. They must be motivated by the same things that motivate the rest of us, even if they might be a little more wonkish and data-based than the rest of us. They must like a good pigout now and then, right? Or at least some Grandma’s Cookies in the late afternoon?

This story from the L.A. Times three years ago is interesting. It tells how Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, visited the FDA cafeteria and found foods for sale that were mislabeled. He found Purity Organic Functional Drinks’ Pomegranate Blueberry with a label claiming the ingredient gingko biloba “will enhance your memory and keep you thinking straight.”

This, he noted, is demonstrably false and constitutes mislabeling. But it was right there, not only under the FDA’s nose but being offered for sale to its employees.

That’s got to be some sort of testament to government’s limitations when it comes to controlling things.

More importantly, as this Associated Press story notes, trans fats don’t have a lot of defenders. Plenty of people are anxious to warn us about the government taking over every inch of our lives, but it seems that nobody is stockpiling vats of partially hydrogenated oils in their secret basement storage vaults.

The fact is, there are substitutes that are healthier and taste the same. The proposed ban (it’s still subject to hearings and likely will be phased in) is about an ingredient, and not the kind of thing that is tangible to most consumers, such as salt or sugar.

Recent evidence shows Americans are moving away from, not toward, a consumption nanny state. Look at the states that are legalizing marijuana, for instance. Look at how a court in New York struck down the ill-considered ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces.

I’m not wild about the marijuana thing. But at least I won’t be the conservative who complains about the nanny state on one end while embracing it on the other. I’m much too pragmatic for that. Some things should be banned.

And as long as FDA employees remain human and are required to eat, I’m not too worried trans fats will be the first step down a slippery slope to tofu and rabbit food.

About the Author

Jay Evensen

Jay Evensen is the Senior Editorial Columnist for the Deseret News. He has 32 years of journalism experience covering politics and a variety of other assignments at news organizations ranging from United Press International in New York City to the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Deseret News, where he has worked since 1986. During that time, he has won numerous local, regional and national awards. Most recently, he was given the Cameron Duncan Media Award, given annually in Washington, D.C., by the advocacy group RESULTS, to the journalist judged to have done the most to further the cause of the world's poorest people.

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