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The Milton Measure

Food Regulations Go Too Far

by on Friday, June 8th, 2012

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Laws provide against injury from others, but not from ourselves.” In other words, government should strive to create laws that protect us from those who might harm us, but not from our own actions. Recently, however, some Chicago public schools have begun to restrict the kinds of foods that students are permitted to pack in their lunches. In addition, some state legislatures have just passed laws banning trans fats in restaurants, while Mayor Bloomberg of New York has moved to ban sugary drinks.

The government has a responsibility to inform the American people about harmful foods so that they can make educated choices about diet. Yet the government should go no further than providing information. For adults, restrictions on food impinge on their rights. Regardless of how unhealthy a product might be, adults are capable of deciding what they want to put into their mouths.

This government intervention poses economic side-effects as well. The use of trans fats allows companies to lower food prices, so banning these ingredients drives up costs for consumers. If, after being sufficiently educated, the public decides to no longer buy these foods, then the companies in question will have to adjust their product to meet market demands. Many businesses already advertise fat-free options. Once again, the government should educate citizens, but not mandate their personal choices.

If such measures continue, where will they end? What if the government decides that coffee, cookies, and ice cream are also too unhealthy? With liberty comes responsibility, and that responsibility includes making wise decisions with regards to our health, to the best of our knowledge. These restrictions insult the intelligence of Americans by implying that they are not capable of deciding what is best for themselves. The most difficult controversy lies in restrictions on what children eat. The government is supposed to protect minors from ailments like diabetes and obesity, and thus it makes sense for schools to serve healthier lunches. But do they have the right to throw out lunches brought from home, packed by parents, if teachers find the contents unhealthy? Some schools are now using this system, taking away parents’ rights to raise their own children.

Admittedly, there are times when limited intervention on the school’s part is justified: when the parents’ choices are extremely unhealthy, such as only providing candy bars and soda. In such rare cases, the school could inform parents that they feel their child is not being well nourished and offer the use of a healthier school lunch program. In addition, if a parent is not sending food at all, it is the school’s responsibility to make sure that the child is fed.

These questions of responsibility are hard to resolve, as food approved by the government one year is likely to change by the next. Ideas on nutrition vary greatly, and differing perspectives each have medical studies to back them up. Today, many nutritionists believe that animal fat is the root of all evil, while others think that carbohydrates are the true enemy.

In the end, the government needs to provide citizens with general guidelines for healthy eating, and then leave the decision-making up to the individual. Independence comes from having the right to make your own decisions in many aspects of your life, choosing for yourself, and then learning from your mistakes. Personal choices such as diet must be made by educated citizens, not by government policy-makers.

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Posted by on Jun 8 2012. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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