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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5990/you-cant-have-trans-fats-because-theyre-bad-for-you-says-new-york-citys-board-of-health/

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

December 8, 2006 by

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.

This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.


cdel December 8, 2006 at 11:09 pm

As a longtime libertarian,
I had the same reaction to the new trans-fat rules in NY and Chicago — initially.

But I’m pretty well-read on health issues, and I’ve come to the basic conclusion that trans-fats are no different from poison. Maybe a slow poison, but just as much a poison as arsenic or cyanide. No redeeming value whatsoever.

Therefore, what I have to ask myself is whether I would object if the NY Health Dept ruled that restaurants are not allowed to use cyanide as an ingredient in their recipes. My answer would generally be no, I would not object. The main reason I would not object, and this is important, is that restaurants generally don’t list each and every ingredient in their recipes. Thus, the customers would be left unaware that they were putting their lives in danger by eating the food.

Now if a restaurant practiced full-disclosure, and prominently listed all the ingredients in their recipes, that’s a different story. I would then say to let them put whatever they want in the food, even (gulp!) cyanide, with no interference from the Board of Health. The customers have all the facts and can make an informed choice. (Maybe some crazy customers like that great almond-y flavor!)

But in the real world, restaurants have a strong incentive not to make their best recipes public knowledge, for competitive reasons. For restaurants that don’t practice full-disclosure of ingredients, then, I believe the Board of Health is justified in outlawing the use of poison in the food.

Larry Ruane December 8, 2006 at 11:44 pm

cdel, if you are a libertarian, then the term now means something different than what it used to mean. Libertarians used to know that voluntary action can solve problems like this. First of all, it’s not good for business to poison your customers. You will end up losing your customer base. Secondly, if people become worried that certain restaurants may be poisoning them, that creates a market opportunity for restaurant owners to disclose their ingredients or whatever it takes to attract customers. Finally, no one is forced to eat in a restaurant. If you’re worried about being poisoned, and no restaurants have noticed the opportunity to attract customers by offering poison-free food, then you can prepare your own food.

Tell me the truth. Do you ever eat in any restaurant that may serve food containing trans-fats?

Steve December 9, 2006 at 12:54 am

Amazing! And you call yourself a libertarian, cdel??? If your attitude is libertarian, then the rest of us must be anarchists, lol.

I think the decision by the NY Board of Health is just another nail in the coffin of freedom, another step in the long march to a dictatorship. A dictatorship may be “kinder and gentler”, but it is still a dictatorship nonetheless.

When the government finally decides that we are too stupid to know what to eat or drink or anything else, they will finally decide that we are also too stupid to be allowed to vote for our leaders in the future, you watch.

cdel December 9, 2006 at 1:10 am

Mr Ruane, whoa, you’re missing half the story here. You speak of all the people who haven’t been poisoned yet, and how (1) they’ll avoid the reputed poisoners, and (2) a market opportunity opens up to cater to these people. That’s all well and good, and in fact those very scenarios are unfolding as we speak. But we can’t just ignore the people that were poisoned in the first place.

If the restauranteur knowingly puts arsenic in the tea he serves his customers without telling them about it, he’s a criminal. You seem to be denying that simply because tomorrow’s crowd can avoid his restaurant.

quincunx December 9, 2006 at 2:09 am

So, cdel, what are your thoughts on fluoridated water?

cdel December 9, 2006 at 3:27 am

Fluoride occurs naturally in many aquifers. When it’s deliberately added to water, the water is “labeled” as such. There’s no fraud occurring in either case, so I don’t think it has much bearing on our present discussion.

Doug December 9, 2006 at 5:41 am


can you please explain the point that you are trying to make when you say “If the restauranteur knowingly puts arsenic in the tea he serves his customers without telling them about it, he’s a criminal.”

Indeed, he is a criminal and should be treated as such. In a world founded on libertarian principles he would not simply spend some time behind bars at the “taxpayers’” expense, or pay a fine to the government, he would pay just compensation to his victims, and if he took a life, well, then he forfeits his right to his own life.

Is the fear of punishment not (in large part) what discourages people from committing crimes?

If a restauranteur serves poison to a person who is not aware that he is being fed poison, then that restauranteur is indeed a criminal. However, what is a poison and what if a person voluntarily decides to ingest the poison? Many foods when taken in excessive doses could be toxic – for example, alcohol. I would not be happy if the government decided to ban beer or wine because they are poisons! Would you? On that point, are more people killed by trans fats or alcohol?

Person December 9, 2006 at 7:35 am


Fluoride occurs naturally in many aquifers. When it’s deliberately added to water, the water is “labeled” as such.

Where’s the label on my sink, ice machine, shower, toilet (you know, anywhere I might drink from), that “clearly labels” the water as being fluoridated?

I’ll stick to drinking distilled water rather than the “at least it won’t kill you” junk the city pumps out.

David J. Heinrich December 9, 2006 at 9:10 am


Normally, I defend the fundamental issue, but your claims are so outrageous that I just have to say “bullshit”. Pure bullshit.

Trans-fatty acids are not poison. To say such is to atrociously twist the meaning of the word poison. Poison is something that kills you, not shortens your lifespan. There is a clear difference.

And it’s ridiculous to say that restaurants are engaging in fraud if they don’t list all of the ingredients in their food. I don’t know every components that’s in my phone, but that doesn’t mean I was defrauded.

Furthermore, restaurants have absolutely no — zero, squat — obligation to disclose ingredients in their food. Although if zomeone asks, “is glutin in this meal”, they’re obligated not to lie. However, otherwise, it is caveat emptor, buyer beward. Unless otherwise explicitly stating, the seller isn’t held responsible for the quality of the product (although I’d argue it must actually be what he claims it to be).

Although this reminds me, there is a restaurant titled “Heart Attack Grill”. They serve nothing but “greasy”, great-tasting food. (and, they have good looking “nurses” bringing the food to you). Basically, saying to hell with political correctness, to hell with health.

Bill, Fun lover. December 9, 2006 at 1:48 pm

I do not like trans fat bans for the same reason I hate smoking bans which is the same reason I hate prohibitions of any kind. I hate the state taking the fun out of something. For government to proscribe the contents of food is to say to the patrons that you can not enjoy your food as much as you did previously. Otherwise you would go to a different resturaunt or no resturaunt at all.

The totalitarians of all shapes and sizes were great believers and taking the fun out of stuff. Cuba and North Korea are wonderful examples of this.

Humanity, at least the capitalist part, has gotten beyond food, clothing and shelter. Probably less than 1% of the economy provides necessities and the rest provides pleasure on top of those necessities. The state is at its worst attacking these pleasures. And just because a majority of voters picks you or pick the prohibition does not make the prohibition right.

D. Saul Weiner December 9, 2006 at 5:06 pm

Even the non-libertarians should be very wary of measures like this, because governments have a very poor track record of even determining which foods are good or bad for us (though I happen to agree that trans fats are no good … which is not to say that their replacement will be better, though). Most people would be truly shocked if they knew how poor the evidence was for most of the supposed dietary evils that the state targets (e.g. saturated fat, cholesterol, and raw milk).

John Dougan December 9, 2006 at 6:47 pm

A great F. Paul Wilson story on this very topic: Lipidleggin’

cdel December 10, 2006 at 12:38 am

Thank you all for your comments. It’s good to see so many people are following this website. I would like to announce that I’ve changed my mind on this issue after thinking about it some more.

My thought process was roughly this:

By outlawing trans-fats in restaurants, it could be interpreted that the NY Dept of Health is defining the feeding of trans-fats to customers
as a new form of assault. They are then stepping in and outlawing that type of assault. This is similar to my original contention, except that
I required non-disclosure of the offending substance before crying foul. (You’re right Mr Heinrich — poison was a hasty choice of word on my part, because it connotes to many people something that is fast-acting.)

But “assault” cannot possibly occur unless the victim, after learning all the facts, levels the charge. People who willingly eat trans fats in
their homes would probably say no, I was not assaulted, even if the presence of trans-fats in their meal were not disclosed until much later.

But the people who know the dangers of trans-fats, and were not told they were in the food, might say yes, I was assaulted.

The basic problem is that the NY Dept of Health rule doesn’t discriminate between these two groups. So even if my hypothetical disclosure clause were added, it would still be a bad rule.

A more just solution would be that offended customers could level assault charges (and sue for civil damages) against restaurant owners if they feel they were fed trans-fats without their consent, and that harm was done.

averros December 10, 2006 at 2:19 am

It’s funny that nobody noticed that trans-fats (although in smaller quantities – 2-5% of total fat) are found in natural, organic, meat and milk.

I’m wondering if the proposed rule would make all New Yorkers into involuntary vegans.

David J. Heinrich December 10, 2006 at 11:54 am


As I explained clearly above, trans-fatty acids aren’t poison. Putting them in food, even if not telling people, isn’t fraud or assault. Restaurants have no obligation to tell customers the precise ingredients in their food.

cdel December 10, 2006 at 1:02 pm

Typical. So typical. The major media have vilified all “saturated” fats for decades, even though some are good for you.

Now they’re doing it all over again with “trans” fats. Thank you, averros, for pointing this out.
I was unaware they were lumping beneficial fats like CLA into the “trans” category.

I’ve avoided eating any sort of hydrogenated oils for years and years. During the majority of that time, “trans-fat” was not in the American vernacular.

When the media finally jumped on board this issue, suddenly it was “trans” instead of “hydrogenated”.
(“Hydrogenated” is always artificially produced using heat and a catalyst.)

I don’t know whether to think these media and FDA people are idiots or if they’re intentionally trying to muddy the issue. Probably a bit of both.

cdel December 10, 2006 at 4:00 pm

Mr Heinrich, tell me. If, without your consent, I put something in your food that shortens your lifespan by a year, do you really contend that I have not violated your rights, even though you may not feel justified in calling the contaminant a “poison”? Do you not feel that your body is a piece of property having value?

What if I sold you gasoline that was secretly adulterated with a little sugar, resulting in damage to your car’s engine?

Mark Brabson December 10, 2006 at 4:24 pm

I am thinking of going to New York and opening my own “Heart Attack” Cafe, like the guy out west. Specifically, I would use lard to cook the french fries. That ought to get the nannies in New York stirred up into a frenzy. :)

Larry N. Martin December 10, 2006 at 4:49 pm

But now, cdel, you raise the question of intent. Do you really believe that restaurants would deliberately try to shorten the lifespans of their customers? When it comes to health and dietary concerns, it seems that hard scientific evidence is still a little lacking, especially where it comes to uniformity. How else to explain comedian George Burns, a smoker, living to be a hundred?
Thus, the intent to deliberately harm customers seems lacking. As scientific evidence makes it clear to restaurant owners the dangers of certain diets and ingredients, such information is also available to the consumer, who can then alter their diet or demand different ingredients from restaurants.
Otherwise, one would have to postulate a secret knowledge that restaurant-owners and restaurant associations know that they are deliberately withholding from or preventing the public from knowing. A rather unlikely proposition, I think.
Someone earlier said “buyer beware”, but I think it’s really more a case of “seller beware”.

Mark Humphrey December 10, 2006 at 8:05 pm

Ceding to the state the power to dictate dietary choice is destructive, just as is any other demand backed by coercion. Apologists for such coercive meddling always assume implicitly that the state is a good and wise parent, capable and eager to identify and uphold the good, and to define and stamp out the bad.

However, this view of the state as cosmic god-parent is wildly implausible. Why? Because the state is really only individuals who have amassed political power over their fellows. As we all know, individuals are capable of committing errors. When an individual has the power to impose his choices on others, his errors cause widespread suffering for his subjects–entirely apart from the destructiveness of treating moral agents as though they were gravel and concrete.

Human beings require freedom of choice to flourish, precisely because thinking is an individual activity necessary to the sustenance of one’s life. To impose one individual’s notions on the rest of mankind “for the greater good” is an absurdity.

The much-quoted phenomenon of “unanticipated consequences”, wherein state edicts tear apart desireable social mores and institutions, is the process by which individuals seek to evade the dictates of the politically powerful.

cdel December 10, 2006 at 8:06 pm

No, of course their intent is not to shorten their customers’ lifespans. I’m speaking more about negligence, unscrupulousness. They’re adding whatever it is to their product to increase their sales, even though they know about the bad health effects.

That negligent attitude might merit a lighter punishment than overt aggression, but it’s not excusable.

M E Hoffer December 10, 2006 at 9:41 pm

This: “Restaurants have no obligation to tell customers the precise ingredients in their food.”

May be true, but why would they actively refrain?

Shouldn’t they be proud of the quality, and the qualities, of the ‘foods’ they serve?

See the growing trend of stadium style open kitchens, in ‘restaraunts’, and you’ll see that people really do prefer access to understanding.

Larry Ruane December 11, 2006 at 12:01 am

(Mark Humphrey’s comment at December 10, 2006 8:05 PM is excellent — the best so far IMO.)

cdel, that’s cool that you have rethought your position. It’s rare to see anyone, libertarian or otherwise, do so.

Let me also bring in the concept of implied consent or implied contract. cdel, your first post mentioned cyanide. Has the NYC Board of Health issued a regulation prohibiting the use of cyanide by restaurants? I doubt it, and if it has, I think we can all agree that such a rule is completely unnecessary. There is a general understanding that cyanide is harmful, and that anyone who causes another to unknowingly ingest cyanide (whether intentionally or through neglect) is guilty of a crime (the intentional case being more severe). When you order food in a restaurant, there is an implied contract that it is cyanide-free.

But in the case of trans-fats, not everyone understands or agrees that it is harmful. It doesn’t matter if it’s really harmful; it only matters that there is no implied contract that trans-fats are not present. Everyone understands that trans-fats may be present (unless that restaurant promises they are not). So the Board of Health should not outlaw them.

So I hope I’ve shown that either way (implied contract or no implied contract), the government has no justification outlawing specific ingredients.

Sam December 11, 2006 at 12:21 am

But to Larry Ruane and others criticising cdel, what is wrong with a restuarant informing customers of the ingredients in a way that customers can make an informed choice? Considering traces of peanuts can kill certain people shouldn’t there be some prior information?

To say that people with life-threatening allergies should engage in a life-lottery when eating out doesn’t sound too great to me.

P.S. No I’m not allergic peanuts, etc. ;)

Doug December 11, 2006 at 2:54 am

I think that the problem here is that nobody can prove that trans fats shortened your life.

If somebody feeds you polonium without your knowledge and it kills you or makes you very sick, then it is possible to prove that it was the polonium that killed you or made you ill. However, when you eat trans fats, there is no immediate or indeed long-term effect that can be attributed directly to trans fats. All we have is a statistical correlation, which is not causation. (How often have we been told by the state that something is bad, only to be told years later that it was not so?) Thus how would you prove that a restauranteur harmed you in any way, if you were to charge him with assault or sue him for damages?

If a restauranteur knows that most people believe that trans fats are harmful, then he would probably be silly not to advertise his food as being “trans fat free”.

I do, however, believe that if I ask a direct question about whether or not a meal contains trans fats and the restauranteur lies, then I should be able to seek compensation. I could believe very strongly that trans fats will harm me, and the knowledge that I consumed them could cause me great psychological harm. Same goes for if I ask if the meal contains pork and I’m told, no, it’s chicken.

cdel December 11, 2006 at 3:54 am

> I think that the problem here is that nobody can prove that trans fats shortened your life.

So true. When it comes to nutritional/medicinal effects on human lifespan, it is hard enough proving things statistically, but if you can, at least it can greatly influence people’s choices of food and medicine. Proving anything in a direct cause and effect fashion, which is the standard required in a courtroom, is practically impossible because our lifespans are so long. So a lot of wrongs naturally go unremedied.

This is a great shame. What value do insurance companies generally assign to human lives these days? A long while back I remember reading it was about $1 million. Assuming that figure is close, if someone tricks me into eating something that takes only 9 months off my lifespan, we’d be talking about $1,000,000/73yrAvgLifespan/12mosPerYr*9months = over $10,000. That’s not chump change, folks, yet I don’t believe that anyone out there would have a chance in hell collecting it.

Doug December 11, 2006 at 6:04 am

I guess I meant that it would be necessary to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the restauranteur had indeed shortened your life. Statistical corelation is clearly not enough – after all, trans fats might shorten the life of one person but not another.

That’s the trouble with state controlled science – it has become all about statistics. That way you can “prove” anything and therefore regulate everything!

I thought some more after writing the bit about compensation for psychological damage, and am really not sure about this part. Instinctively I feel that if I believe that something might harm me, then if somebody knowingly does it to me, then it’s an act of violence (a bit like pointing the bone in traditional aboriginal culture).

Larry Ruane December 11, 2006 at 1:13 pm

Sam said: “To say that people with life-threatening allergies should engage in a life-lottery when eating out doesn’t sound too great to me.”

Why wouldn’t the person ask? I sure would. Nobody here says restaurants shouldn’t be held liable if they lie in answer to a direct question.

Sam asks, “what is wrong with a restaurant informing customers of the ingredients in a way that customers can make an informed choice?” Nothing at all — but it should be voluntary. And restaurants will do this if there’s a market, if there’s demand for it. But if you’re allergic to some very unusual substance, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect the restaurant to list it on the menu — it’s an unnecessary distraction to most people. But again, you can always ask.

I still don’t see any need for regulations in any of this.

David J. Heinrich December 11, 2006 at 6:25 pm


Nothing’s wrong with listing ingredients. But do you know how many things different people — a very small minority of people — are allergic too? And some people are so allergic to some things that even if the food doesn’t have such in it, but it was made near the allergin, they can have an allergic reaction due to minute allergin particles and cross-contamination. Some people require very special preparation of food for these reasons.

To impose a comprehensive listing of anything anyone might be allergic to, and require restaurants to make food in special ways, would be beyond burdensome.

MLJ June 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm

What’s f**ed up about this is that it’s the SAME guvvermint that told us to EAT trans fats because butter was bad for you!! And still does.

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