Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Paterson's High Caloric

There's more on the governor's cockamamie idea for menu labeling in yesterday's Times Union (via Liz B.): "Enjoy that slice of carrot cake guilt-free while you can. Gov. Paterson thinks you ought to know that it contains 1,500 calories, and wants a law requiring chain supermarkets and restaurants to tell you about it."

Paterson believes that this info will spur better choices at the state's fast food outlets-even though two decades or more of packaged food labeling is coincident with the current epidemic of obesity; so much for the knowledge is power crowd. As it happens, the folks who are health conscious read the labels; while those in most need of the information ignore it for the most part. So why does the governor think this labeling scheme will work?

Here's TU's account: "The legislation will help New Yorkers make better decisions about what they eat," Paterson said. "When people know what their choices are, they seem to make better choices." The governor's office cited a study showing that fast-food customers who saw calorie information displayed purchased an average of 52 fewer calories than customers who did not see the count. The New York City initiative is expected to prevent at least 30,000 new cases of diabetes over the next five years. "

What study is he talking about? Could it have been the NYC DOH's in-house evaluation-the one we poked holes in a few years ago? In fact it was the DOH's own survey, one of the most unscientific and self serving studies imaginable, that Paterson must be referring to; and the chain surveyed was the health conscious Subways: "A health department survey this spring found that only 3 percent of customers at Domino’s, Papa John’s, Taco Bell and other popular restaurants saw the calorie information provided by those chains on their Web sites or other locations before ordering. By contrast, about 31 percent of Subway customers reported seeing the calorie information, which was posted prominently next to the cash register at the time of the survey. Those who said they did consumed about 634 calories, about 50 calories less than those who did not, the study found."

Reading this, we believe that the researchers at the DOH should now turn to either astrology or alchemy; cause by doing so they'll have a better scientific perspective than this ideologically driven drivel. To wit: Aside from the fact that the Subway postings were not done in total conformance to the DOH formula, it is impossible to draw any conclusions from a comparison between Subway customers and, let's say McDonald's customers, without having a little bit of a priori knowledge of what the disparate customer bases are bringing with them in the form of nutritional information.

Subway, which has always emphasized its nutritional appeal, and markets its restaurants on this basis, may well be attracting customers with both the knowledge and inclination to utilize calorie information-wherever it's posted. And the fact that those who claimed that they saw the calorie info supposedly consumed "50 calories less" than those who didn't, proves, well, absolutely nothing, because we simply have no idea whether this result, although correlated, has any degree of causal relationship. The less consuming calorie customer may only have been predetermined by the prior inclination and knowledge we've mentioned.

And when the city regulation finally went into effect, confusion reigned. As we pointed out at the time: "And one customer that Crain's talked to really gets it: "“It's such a wide range,” says Kelli Garcia, a Chipotle customer. “It seems silly to put it there.” The restaurants say that because their meals are made to order and come in varying sizes, calorie counts can't be boiled down to a single number. Serious calorie-counters, like Ms. Garcia, say that they will have to continue to rely on nutrition-related Web sites to calculate the caloric content of restaurant meals."

So we are now relying on the unverified, and politically motivated musings of the anti-business folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest-the brain surgeons who have been advocating this kind of health dictation for years. Except Paterson wants to go even further than Mother Tom in NYC: "The bill would apply to restaurants, supermarkets and convenience stores that are part of chains with 15 or more locations. Paterson said he hoped smaller mom-and-pop businesses would voluntarily post the calorie data, as well."

Can't wait to see how supermarkets will be forced to disclose this info-and where. Will the deli have to post all of the calorie information on its meat, cheeses and salads? Where will the postings go, and will we add salt and fat contents while we're at it? Of course, in NYC this would mean a new rich area of regulation for the DCA to fine beleaguered store owners over. As if the city's markets weren't already an endangered species.

And the idea that all of this comes at no cost to consumers is, at best, naive-and the TU reporter should stay away from any editorializing: "Unlike Paterson's more controversial proposals from last year's plan to cap property taxes to the more recent push for the legalization of same-sex marriage menu labeling is unlikely to provoke a ferocious debate. It also could be viewed as a prudent, health-oriented move. And it would come with little apparent cost to consumers, unlike a tax on sugared drinks the governor proposed earlier this year but then dropped in light of heavy opposition."

High taxes and over regulating is at the root of business loss in New York State. The governor's quixotic effort to lower the obesity rate will fatten the coffers of the bureaucrats, but do little to trim the waist lines of the state's overweight residents.