Monday, April 05, 2010

Menu Labeling-Unhealthy Job Killing

Now that NYC's idiotic menu labeling regulation has been enshrined in the new ObamaCare law, we are about to witness-in this one comparatively small way-how the new law will be a downer for economic growth. Put simply, this is another mandate on retailers that will not only be expensive to institute-as we have pointed out in the past-but will give enterprising restaurant owners pause before they expand to the point where the law would apply to them.

Hot Air discusses some of these factors: "Yesterday, I spent a little time at a local pizzeria to find out more about the impact of the new federal menu mandate in the real world. Davanni’s has 21 locations throughout the Twin Cities, a smaller, local chain that suddenly must now comply with this federal requirement to publish the caloric content of each of its menu items on all of its printed presentations. However, these restaurants have a problem when they offer their customers a wide range and high number of options — as most pizzerias do. Ken Schelper, a Vice President of Davanni’s, sat down with me yesterday to explain just how costly this new mandate is, and how difficult compliance will be..."

First there is the question of truth and advertising, since the posted calories could be construed as such-opening up the owners to litigation from both customers and competitors; not to mention the cost of making constant changes and adjustments: "We both speculated whether a calorie disclaimer amounted to advertising, and whether restaurants would have to put lawyers on retainers as consumers (and perhaps competitors) drag them into court to substantiate the claims. For that matter, how will restaurants calculate these calorie counts? Can they simply use the numbers from their suppliers to calculate the nutritional data for the end product, or will they have to get lab testing done? As the video notes, every time they have an ingredient change, or even just a supplier, they have to recalculate everything — and then reprint all of their menu boards and literature in every location."

And, of course, in order to simplify things and avoid legal challenges the reduction of consumer choice is inevitable: "The pressure of this law will eventually force restaurants like Davanni’s to reduce consumer choice as a way of managing the overwhelming burden of maintaining their disclosures."

And, just as the 50 employee threshold for small business compliance with ObamaCare dictates, is a growth retardant, so is the 19 store chain barrier: "Smaller chains that succeed in satisfying their customers and managing their business used to be rewarded with growth, but this law will put an artificial cap on expansion at 19 locations. That means that fewer people will find jobs, and even in existing stores, money that may have funded more jobs will instead go to reprinting the same menu boards over and over again. And all of this comes because political elites think that people are too stupid to know that a pizza is fattening or how to access information that already exists in much more efficient formats than menu boards."

All of these points were raised when we first were retained to-unsuccessfully-fight the NYC Board of Health ruling, the one that was based on absolutely no scientific evidence of any efficacy. And, in the aftermath of the NYC rule, there still is no evidence that any of this works to achieve any recognized health goals.

As the Wall Street Journal points out: "The men were a bit more forthcoming. “Yeah, for the most part,” said Ben, 24, client at Popeyes. “But sometimes I go by my taste buds.” Ben, being a guy, was even willing to hand over his lunch receipt: chicken wrap, apple pie, fries — about 960 calories. Ben’s taste buds must have ordered dessert.The question facing health officials is: Can government really overpower Ben’s taste buds in the pudding-wrestling match between restraint and indulgence that overtakes his and every American’s mind come meal time? Two recent studies of New Yorkers’ habits before and after the introduction of calorie labeling offer less-than-encouraging results."

What did the studies show? Our comments were clear on this, but the Journal further highlights the inane nannyism of the entire enterprise: "One study, out last fall, suggests that people either ignore the labels or use them like teenage boys use the movie and TV rating systems — to make sure they’ll be getting enough of the good stuff. Researchers from New York University and Yale looked at a sample of 1,156 adults at fast-food restaurants in low-income, minority communities in New York City and compared their habits before and after calorie labeling to similar customers in Newark, N.J., a city that had not instituted calorie labeling. While many people claimed to be paying attention to the new information in New York, the researchers found that there was no change in the amount of calories purchased. In fact, there was even a slight uptick."

So, of course, when government initiatives are proven to be failures, the only response is to, all together now, expand them!-this time nationally so that the entire country can be part of a thought experiment that came out of the nutty Center for Science in the Public Interest; folks who, if they had their way, would impose a ban on anyone eating not only fast food, but Halloween candy as well.

But the menu labeling mandate is the tip of the proverbial iceberg-and underscores how, once the government controls health and concomitant behavior that impacts health, it will find endless ways to intrude into the everyday lives of all Americans. Once you're subsidized in this area, your behavior is no longer your own.

We'll give this libertarian the final word: "Is this law really worth the cost? Are Americans really going to benefit from having calorie counts on their menu at Chili’s? As what point does the nanny state end? Have calorie counts discouraged people from buying unhealthy food at grocery stores? If people want healthier choices at restaurants the market will take care of it. However, progressives do not believe Americans can think for themselves. Daddy Federal Government has to take care of us, or we’ll hurt ourselves."