This past week the FDA proposed an outright ban on artificial trans fats in prepared foods. Trans fats occur naturally and artificial ones have been used for decades in foods. As a foodstuff they are safe insofar as they don’t make you sick upon ingestion and have known physiological benefits in proper amounts (and known harms if consumed to excess, which is the case with all food components). The FDA is not banning some new dangerous unknown substance. They are banning something that has, in large part, already been voluntarily reduced in the past few years to the point that average US consumption of trans fats is now half of what the American Heart Association recommends as being safe. So if it’s already hardly used, where’s the harm in a ban you might say? Setting aside the ethics of the ban, the direct type of harm that can be envisioned would be a situation wherein the use of trans fat solves a problem for which there is no good substitute. Furthermore any substitutes might very well themselves be more harmful than the trans fat. That’s called “unintended consequences” and occurs with every single government mandate ever issued.
Some examples where trans fats are used include cake frosting, microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas and various fried foods. These are mere treats, things eaten a handful of times in a month if even that (how many cakes have you eaten in the last month?). But given the government’s penchant for quixotic battles against virtually riskless activities (trillions of dollars spent fighting terrorism even though jaywalking kills more people each year than terrorism) it should come as no surprise that Uncle Sam would relish the role of micromanaging the minutiae of our lives (“exactly how many calories are in the candy bar sir?”).
Lifelong dependency of the citizen ensures eternal power for the state.
There is nothing wrong with the FDA educating the public about the healthiness or lack thereof of certain kinds of foods (although forcing the public to pay for such education through taxation rests on ethically dubious ground). However, the outright banning of this or that substance crosses a line. The metric upon which prohibitions have been based (such as drug prohibition, however ill conceived) is one of “imminent harm”, i.e. if someone is about to jump off a bridge we can plainly see their free will is immediately deleterious to their own well being therefore one could argue intervention is justified. However, the bar has been moved from “imminent” to “eventually possible” i.e. should we tear the bridge down so as to make it impossible for anyone to ever jump off it? Should we now ban every conceivably risky activity? If so, that’s going to be a mighty long list! Nearly every action in our daily lives carriers some level of inherent risk.
The FDA’s justification for this ban is a mere estimate (i.e. best guess) that it will result in 20,000 fewer heart attacks and 7,000 fewer deaths each year. The rationale is of course the “Greater Good” argument. This ban will naturally lead to lower health care costs for the nation. Why stop there? Perhaps the FDA could implement other policies that have the net effect of lowering health care costs. Perhaps they could ban foods that naturally contain trans or saturated fats (all meat, cheese and dairy). Next they could ban all foods that are not considered to be “healthy” (according to the whim of whoever happens to be in power at the FDA). These directives would surely save more lives, so how can one object? Eventually the government could require all citizens join a gym and exercise each day… because this would lead to fewer deaths each year… so how can one object? Oh, and what of those that refuse to do their quota of exercise? Well, we’ll just levy a fine, err, I mean tax on those that refuse the directive of the collective.
This trans fat ban is just the first step in sacrificing the individual on the altar of the collective state. If you agree to take what the collective offers (free or subsidized health insurance), then you must submit to having your life directed by that same collective. Children accept the care of their parents and thus are obligated to follow their rules. Likewise government demands we follow their rules because they view us as but children. Lifelong dependency of the citizen ensures eternal power for the state.