03.21.2014 0

Government war on big food?

By David Bozeman

Will big food companies be the next target of extortion by government do-gooders?  Despite the precedent of the Big Tobacco settlement, Politico writes that such a scenario is unlikely, given the lack of a “smoking gun” to prove deliberate manipulation of the food market, i.e., doctoring or withholding nutritional data for profits.

But don’t be too sure.  The kookery percolating one day in college classrooms or left-wing think tanks becomes tomorrow’s norm.  Leftists are bold, cunning and, above all, patient.  Unlike (some) all-or-nothing conservatives, leftists will gladly advance their agendas incrementally.

OreosPolitico previously reported that a law firm in Chicago approached sixteen state attorneys general, proposing that they try to recover a portion of their growing obesity-related Medicaid expenses from — you guessed it — private food companies.  Reports vary as to specific targets but consider that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg targeted large soda cups, salty foods and trans-fats (Oreos, for instance — that’s you, Nabisco).

Bloomberg, of course, came to embody the very essence of the Nanny State, actually a very misleading description of government overreach.  Nannies, traditionally,  are kind, nurturing and care for small children.  Big government, when shaking down private entities, more resembles a bully, hence, what I propose as its new description, the Bully State.

The motives of a war on Big Food are so patently obvious that just repeating them seems trite.  Still, for anyone completely unaware, government, under the guise of such noble intentions as protecting your health, could well transfer billions of dollars from the private sector to public coffers.  The settlement against Big Tobacco in 1990’s gave the federal and state governments almost $250 billion to spend on smoking prevention programs.  According to some sources, more than 90% of that money went to programs unrelated to smoking prevention.  And that doesn’t even account for the unknown amount of dollars lining the pockets of lawyers (never factor out the lawyers when dissecting the latest Bully State scheme).  A war on just a few big food companies would certainly spike prices up dramatically.

Still, Politico is right in that such a blatant move is unlikely, given that food, unlike cigarettes, is a necessity.  An all-out war will proceed as it already has, stealthily, with a tax on trans-fats here, a lawsuit there, a ban on Happy Meals in this municipality, a stigma against salty snacks in another. . .  In short, incrementally.

Granted, even in a free society, our actions do impact others.  Bad health choices by some can raise costs and premiums for our neighbors.  Still, a rational society weighs the pros and cons and realizes that the benefits of a free, competitive system far outweigh the constraints imposed by the Bully State.  People will invariably make poor food choices:  an extra donut, a Big Mac instead of a salad, etc., but it is the very decadence of food that often brings the greatest joy.  Certainly there are limits to breaking rules (both food-wise and otherwise) and that is where the weight of public opinion and advisement, as opposed to government force, can prompt wiser decision-making.

In short, when consumed moderately, junk food, far from the public pariah as it is portrayed, brings incalculable joy to the world.  Chocolate and potato chips may not extend the years of our lives but just the anticipation of a quick bite can enhance the quality.  It is not an extra inch to the average waistline that we need to fear, it is a bully state that strong-arms private businesses, and taxes, monitors and regulates our most pleasurable moments.  If we are not vigilant, one day giddy decadence will morph into criminal activity.  Call it not a war on Big Food but a war on pleasure.

David Bozeman, former Libertarian Party Chairman, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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