You Can't Have Trans Fats Because They're Bad for You, Says New York City's Board of Health

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In recent weeks, the New York City Board of Health has displayed a pattern of profound aggression against the citizens of New York City. I dealt with one major instance of this in my last article, “Pick Your Gender and We’ll Enforce Your Choice, Says New York City’s Board of Health.” There I explained how the Board’s proposed rule to allow individuals to change the sex recorded on their birth certificates, without the necessity of undergoing any actual physical change in their sex, would compel other individuals to deny the evidence of their senses in order to comply with the law.

The Board’s banning, last Tuesday [December 5, 2006], of the use of trans fats in restaurants is a second instance in which the Board shows that it has no compunctions about violating the sanctity of the human mind and its freedom to judge and to choose. The freedom of choice of the citizen apparently means nothing to the Board. Like a curt parent controlling the choices of a child and expecting that his “No” will be sufficient, the Board has taken away the power of choice from adult citizens and told them they will no longer be able to obtain food in restaurants that is prepared with trans fats.

What allegedly justifies this behavior by the Board is the mere fact that trans fats have supposedly been scientifically proven to be unhealthy. As reported by The New York Times of October 31, according to one of the speakers at the Board’s hearing on the subject the day before, “at least 6 percent of the deaths from heart attacks in the nation could be attributed to consumption of trans fats. `Everything we have learned about trans fats is damaging.’”

The meaning of this is that if something is shown to be bad, nothing else is required to put an end to its consumption: no cognition on the part of the individual consumer, no choice on his part. These count for nothing according to the New York City Board of Health and its alleged experts. They can simply be ignored and brushed aside.

Ignoring matters of knowledge and understanding, of choice and will, of voluntary consent, is certainly an appropriate way to deal with inanimate objects. However, it is not an appropriate, or practical, way to deal with the more intelligent animals, let alone children. It is absolutely not an appropriate or practical way to deal with adult human beings. It is the kind of method employed by criminals. Matters such as choice, will, and consent mean nothing to them. A rapist is perhaps the clearest example. Now, with its high-handed banning of trans fats, the New York City Board of Health has shown that it provides another example.

Such outrageous behavior on the part of government has become so common and ingrained that it well might pass as believable if someone were to claim that the following was an actual government plan being considered for enactment.

“Within ninety days, every citizen must report to a government authorized physician to be weighed, measured, and interviewed. On the basis of the data so obtained, the physician will determine the appropriate diet for the citizen in terms of calories, fats, proteins, and every other relevant category of nutrition.

“Within a further ninety days, each citizen will receive a ration book containing weekly allotments for the various nutritional categories. In buying food in supermarkets, restaurants, or anywhere else, the citizen will have to turn over whatever portion of his weekly allotments correspond to the nutritional values of the foods being purchased. All sellers of food will be required to determine the nutritional values of the foods they sell, if they have not already been determined. It shall be illegal to purchase food without surrendering the necessary allotment coupons. It shall be illegal to buy or sell such coupons.

“These measures are necessary because diets and other voluntary methods simply do not work. People are getting too fat. Diabetes is increasing. The government’s cost of providing medical care is increasing correspondingly.

“This program is what good health requires. The government already regulates alcohol and tobacco. The regulation of fats, sugars, and all other nutritional elements is no less necessary.

“Because of this program, overweight people will finally be compelled to lose weight, whether they want to or not. Diabetes and heart disease will be reduced. Health in general will improve. People will live longer.”

Such a program is implicit in the ideas people already accept. Indeed, nutritional values must already be printed on the packaging of practically all foods sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. At the same meeting at which it outlawed trans fats, the New York City Board of Health added a requirement that the calorie content of each food item be posted on the menus of hundreds of restaurants. It thus may well be only a question of time before such a program is actually proposed. If and when it is, there is presently no basis for expecting any principled opposition to it. The opponents will likely be of the kind who’ll think they’ve won a profound victory for “free markets” if they can make the ration coupons tradable.

The only basis of serious opposition is acceptance of the principle that there is something more fundamental and more important than mere physical health, that is, more important than the condition of man’s body considered as a mere hunk of mindless meat. And that is respect for the value of the human mind and of the individual’s freedom to act on the judgment of his mind. That is the principle for which libertarians must stand.

George Reisman [send him mail] is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics, and is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. Visit his website.

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