Monday, January 11, 2010

Not Worth its Salt

Brother, here we go again. Not content with the failed-and expensive-experiment with calorie posting-the city is now looking to regulate the salt content of food sold in both restaurants and in packaged products. As the NY Times reports: "First New York City required restaurants to cut out trans fat. Then it made restaurant chains post calorie counts on their menus. Now it wants to protect people from another health scourge: salt."

And without any scientific basis whatsoever: "While most food companies say they agree at least with the goal of reducing salt, some medical researchers have questioned the scientific basis for the initiative, saying insufficient research had been done on possible effects. While agreeing that reducing salt is likely to lower average blood pressure, they say it can lead to other physiological changes, some of which may be associated with heart problems. An elaborate clinical trial could weigh the pluses and minuses of cutting salt in a large group of people. But that would cost millions, and it has not been done."

But NYC dosn't need no stinkin' clinical trials-not when we have Mother Mike in charge: "Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said the city’s initiative, if successful in reducing salt, would amount to an uncontrolled experiment with the public’s health. “I’m always worried about unintended consequences,” he said."

Not so much Mike Bloomberg and his newest health nanny Dr. Tom Farley. Here's an administration that cries like a stuck pig when it comes to a living wage mandate for developers-but hasn't a single compunction when it comes to telling fast food chains and food manufacturers what they should put in their food and on their menu boards. They know all about food standards but little about double standards.

And while we're on the issue that Dr. Alderman raised about an, "uncontrolled experiment with the public health," that's exactly what the calorie posting policy amounted to-with absolutely no preexisting scientific evidence to suggests that the experiment would work. And it didn't have any of the impact that the nannies wanted-except for getting the thinner folks to be more conscious of the muffins they ate at Starbucks. McDonalds, on the other hand, not so much.

We also disagree with our good friend Rob Bookman, who told the NY Daily News that the Restaurant Association was cool with the concept: "The restaurant industry, a frequent critic of the city's food policies, favors the plan. "This is [a] blueprint for how industry and health departments should work together," said Robert Bookman of the New York Restaurant Association." Be careful Rob. The current cooperative blueprint can be changed into a mandate the you don't like in a New York minute.

And Dr. Alderman was even stronger in his comments to the News: "Michael Alderman, editor of the American Journal of Hypertension, called the city's salt initiative "a stretch based on hope. They want to do an experiment on a whole population without a good control," he said. "That's not science."

But it is a slippery slope to the kind of soft despotism that Tocqueville warned us about. As Roger Kimball tells us:

"The element of seduction that is so central to this sort of managerial despotism is one of the things that makes it so hard to resist. Its power, Tocquville noted,
is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

But, what the heck? With unemployment at record levels in the city under the mayor's watch, we will soon have, if Dr. Tom's wild predictions of dramatic health benefits comes true, an entire cadre of robust and healthy, but out of work New Yorkers. We don't know about you, but that's enough to drive us to drink.