Monday, February 26, 2007

Calorie Showdown at Council

The showdown between restaurants and the Board of Health over the inane calorie posting regulation is about to go to the City Council. The showdown, written about extensively in a balanced piece in this morning's NY Times, is stimulated by the introduction of a modified proposal introduced by Health Chair Joel Rivera. However, because it makes business and public health sense, the measure is being attacked by the non-public interest group that is the rule's real author.

The Rivera bill would allow for greater flexibility because the rigid posting of calories right next to menu items is, as the NRA's Sheila Cohen Weiss has said, "a recipe for confusion." This is graphically illustrated in the Times story when the paper illustrates the difficulty of posting calorie information on Wendy's Mandarin Chicken Salad. A standard salad is 170 calories but, when you add crispy noodles, roasted almonds and sesame dressing the calorie count rises to 550 calories.

Now as we have pointed out, the DOH has permitted the industry to post a range of calorie counts in just this kind of situation but, as Wendy's spokesman Denny Lynch tells the paper, "If that's on the board, 170 to 550 calories, how does that help you?" Indeed it will not, and the DOH has no scientific evidence at all to give any sense that the posting will improve dietary decision-making.

And the compliance costs will be borne by some two thousand local franchisees. Which is no problem to "health advocates" who told the Times that "the chains already have calorie information available and that the main expense would be altering the menu, which is done any way when items are introduced." Maybe we should allow these business savvy advocates to run the stores as well.

The Times story also focuses on the issue of using the Board of Health venue instead of the legislative process. Here we see, in all of it unalloyed disdain for democratic politics, the contempt that the public interest fakers have for the truth. When they lose its not because legislators all over the country think that the regulation is inane and intrusive-no its politics.

As CSPI s director of nutrition Margo Wooten tells us, "When I've worked on menu-labeling bills all over the country, there aren't strong arguments against it based on the merits. The reasons these policies haven't passed is because of politics." Ms. Wooten then goes on to tell the Times, in a clear underscoring of the group's contempt for the people, "New York City found away to bypass politics by having the policy put in place by health experts."

So when it comes to health why not just cede all authority to the health experts? The reasons are two-fold. In the first place public health is now being taken over by ideological zealots who want to impose their visions of how people should be living their lives-whether they like it or not. Secondly, as the NY Sun article this morning indicates, the failure of the Board to even consider the costs of its rule shows, the "health experts" have zero knowledge or expertise about the economic and social impacts of its edicts, while legislators typically do.

Put simply, the DOH doesn't know squat about the food business but this lack of knowledge in no way inhibits it from issuing edicts in the name of health that could very well impair the ability of local firms to do their business. It appears that the Bloombergian concern about "burdensome regulations" is a concern that is limited to the financial sector. Small businesses, as policy after policy in this administration shows, is simply a"minor economic issue."