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Why The Trans Fat Ban Is Worse Than You Think


In an effort to curtail heart disease, the Obama administration said Tuesday it’s cracking down on artificial trans fats,” writes National Journal. The government’s goal is to prevent cardiovascular disease and advocates are cheering the move as a historic win for public health,” says Politico.

The administration supports cardiovascular disease prevention, so this is okay. How about you? Do you want Americans to die needlessly?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final decision this week, giving the food industry three years to phase out bad trans fats, still used in a wide variety of products like Pillsbury’s Ready To Bake cookies and cake frosting. Now, if you’re ingesting large quantities of either, perhaps partially hydrogenated oils aren’t your biggest concern in life. But if the government’s goal is to prevent cardiovascular disease, and preventing cardiovascular disease is all that matters, why stop there?

Phasing out trans fat will allegedly prevent around 7,000 premature deaths each year, the FDA estimates. (If you believe these things can be quantified with that sort of precision, you have far too much faith in crusading bureaucracies. Years ago, I attempted to tally up total deaths that various studies, public interest groups, and government agencies attributed to obesity, smoking, salt, trans fats, meat, etc … and came up with number larger than all the Americans who’d passed away that year.) But 610,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year. Will 603,000 be left for corporate America to slaughter because we won’t act? The negative externalities of allowing people to eat whatever they desire is huge.

So if we can ban trans fats in an effort to curtail heart disease, I wish someone would explain what stops the state from banning any unhealthy ingredient it feels like. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the leading reasons for higher risk of heart disease are these:

  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight and obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use

How could the FDA allow us to keep pumping high-fructose corn syrup into our gullets now that we all understand it’s a contributor to the spike of obesity over the past 30 years? Why do we still sell alcohol, a product that is by any measure more unhealthy than the small amounts of trans fats average Americans consume?

The CDC also contends if you want to prevent heart disease the most important thing you can do is: “Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible.” Yet our own president (African-American men, incidentally, are at the highest risk for heart disease) may be inhaling tobacco in the White House—a substance far more toxic than trans fats. Around 443,000 people die from smoking every year.

Now, Obama could argue that—until very recently—there was no guiding principle in American governance that impels him to try and make sure that every citizen is living salubriously. Maybe, like many other Americans, Obama deems the sensorial benefits of his (one-time?) habit worth the health risk. Maybe I feel the same way about my Häagen-Dazs. As with smoking, there is no lack of transparency when it comes to the inherent dangers of too much trans fats.

As with smoking, there is no lack of transparency when it comes to the inherent dangers of too much trans fats.

Most people, of course, don’t really care if partially hydrogenated oils fall out of the food supply. What they do care about is the unremitting efforts of politicians to micromanage their lives. Once consumers heard about the risks associated with trans fats, they began avoiding them, and businesses consequently stopped using them as much. Between 1980 and 2009, Americans’ consumption of trans fats dropped around a third (as did our intake of saturated fats.) The FDA claims that “trans fat intake among American consumers has declined from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to about 1 gram per day in 2012.”

As Baylen Linnekin points out, The American Heart Association has suggested that Americans consume “less than 2 grams of trans fats a day.” So, he argues, “if the FDA and AHA are correct, then current consumption levels—prior to and without any ban—are well within safe levels.”

Even with the decline, the administration banned it. The course of left-wing intrusions—small and large—follow a similar trajectory. First come reasonable calls for increased transparency (labeling regulations). If the public remains pigheaded, it’s time to scare you (chilling studies and over-the-top predictions). If that doesn’t work, they will discourage you (higher taxes and more regulations). And finally, they’ll force you (banning or mandating) to comply.

With all this, we should not forget the favorite weapon of do-gooders: lawsuits. Government unleashes the lawyers to do their work, punishing companies that fail to comply even ahead of the deadline. The usual collection of class-action attorneys and professional bullies sue food companies that continue to use trans fat for various financial reasons that include taste and increased shelf life.

According to Politico:

Greg Weston, the lead attorney on the case against FDA, said Kummerow ‘is happy the FDA is taking action, but it should have taken place at least 20 years ago, and there is no justification for any sort of further delay or phasing.’

Weston declined to comment on any broader litigation strategy.

‘Litigation is not looming, it is a reality,’ said one food industry lawyer, pointing to the fact that the Weston firm has already filed trans fat lawsuits and to a recent Washington Legal Foundation article that called FDA’s trans fat decision ‘a gift to the litigation industry.’

In today’s world, the idea that government could dictate, say, what sort of sexual relationships a person can indulge in–whether they are unhealthy or even a public risk—would seem preposterous. Even banning pot is beginning to be regarded as useless intrusion by millions. Yet allowing government to decide what we eat (or what our kids eat) is now considered a moral imperative.

After years of pressure from trial attorneys and junk-science public-interest groups, the Obama administration has followed through with its pledge to ban what is—in the amounts most Americans ingest—a benign ingredient. But even if it’s not, we have labels for a reason. It’s unlikely the ban will do anything but create precedents that allow further intrusions into how and what we eat. Which is precisely the point.