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FDA Menu Labeling Rules Criticized by the GOP

— December 1, 2014

Arbys beef fries sauce 1

Today, I read a critique of the new FDA menu labeling rules that was published by the Heritage Foundation.  A staff writer claimed, “The final rule has taken this FDA power grab to a whole new level” and said the Obama Administration is “confusing health with safety.”

That writer says public safety is the chief goal of the FDA, and he’s (about half) right.  (The FDA is mandated to support public health by assuring the safety of food, drugs, etc. in a nation where one-third of citizens are obese.)  The writer is wrong to purport that the concept “health” can be entirely untangled from the concept “safety” – poor health is unsafe.  It’s dangerous to eat healthfully.

[For an overview of the new calorie count rules by the FDA, click here.]

But more importantly, it’s troubling how conservatives at the Heritage Foundation and other like-minded think tanks despise these laws, ignoring their likelihood to decrease public spending on hospitals – and end often championed by the right.  So often, American conservatives chastise left-leaning politicians and academics for advocating increased public health care spending – e.g. Obamacare – but here, when these FDA rules should decrease the chance that an uninsured American requires costly treatment at a public ER for cardiac arrest, the GOP is in uproar.

It’s clear that neither economics nor conceptual consistency drive criticism of these FDA menu labeling rules at the Heritage Foundation.  Most likely, it’s just the desire to be free – free to make decisions about one’s body whatever the health risks may be, free to shorten life in a bath deep-fried glory, and free to eat as one sees “fit.”

Should we ignore the fact that the Republican party also fights against a woman’s right to choose, stands opposed to terminally-ill patients right to die, and has routinely tried to outlaw gay marriage?  Should we ignore that party’s disregard for these freedoms?

The problem here is a lack of critical thought.  To defeat Republican arguments for many issues, all one needs is a closer look at conflicting ideals behind the issue at hand.  Often, that ideal is American freedom.  Republicans use “American freedom” as a rallying cry, championing the ideal as unimpeachable in cases of gun rights, taxes, corporate monopoly, and food, among other issues.  However, “American freedom” doesn’t seem to apply in the cases of female health, gay rights, health care, and national security (re: NSA wiretapping, Guantanamo Bay, and others).

So, do Republicans really stand for freedom?  I’m not really sure.  It looks like the GOP stands for freedom for some people and in some actions, but not for freedom in others.  But the upshot is this: neither party supports freedom in an unqualified way.  The very notion of democratic government requires some freedom to be given up!  (For example, government has a monopoly on violence: it is illegal for average citizens to hurt each other, but if police or soldiers see fit, they are allowed to be violent.  We give up some freedom in agreeing collectively to allow government a monopoly on violence, and this is a good thing.)

The Democratic party talks a lot less about freedom for good reason: many plans by Democratic politicians require Americans to share the burden of national troubles more than those introduced by Republican lawmakers.

It seems, a lot of what the debate over the new FDA menu labeling rules boils down to is the same conflict held between Dems and the GOP sfor decades.  Democrats want the country to share burdens to be better (in this case more healthy) overall, and Republicans want Americans to be free to choose to be worse off if they so please.

(In a way, It’s the same debate had over public education.  Democrats want investment in public schools so our children can better compete in a global marketplace, Republicans want voucher programs to allow more children to go to better, private schools – deepening the divide between rich and poor education opportunities.  In that way, Republicans support choosing to go to a better school, and Democrats support making school better for everyone.)

That’s a healthy debate.  That kind of debate belongs in politics.  The problem is that sometimes theses idealistic divides bleed into areas they shouldn’t – like over the FDA menu labeling rules.  People can still choose high-calorie foods if they want, the rules don’t apply to any small restaurant or local convenience stores, they only apply to large chains.  The software required to count calories only costs about $200 – a one-time purchase, and really doesn’t hinder restaurant and store owners all that much.  The debate over these FDA menu labeling rules just smells like other current debates with a similar theme.

These FDA menu labeling rules are actually pretty good for the country.  Many consumers agree, having called for calorie counts for years.  Conservatives say that it’s just an overreaching liberal attack by the Obama Administration and the FDA, and that if there was enough public support for menu labeling changes, the (ever-holy) free market would have required their institution.

Personally, I think it’s a good idea, and I don’t care whose Administration or which Chair introduced the FDA menu labeling rules.  To be honest, I think that the new FDA menu labeling rules increase freedom for the American consumer: we should be endowed with the knowledge to make free and informed decisions about the content of our foods.  This helps that.  So, in response to the rhetorical question titling an NPR piece, I would like a calorie count with that.

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