Food Labeling Regulations Are Bad for Your Health

Besides offering unrealistic tax reform plans, most of the presidential candidates this year made some nod to regulatory reform in their 2016 campaigns. For the most part these involve some sort of wholesale examination of the rules currently in place to determine which can be safely jettisoned to save consumers and businesses billions of dollars. 

Such regulatory reform is counterproductive, though: As Sam Batkins and I point out in a forthcoming piece in Regulation magazine, once companies have spent what is necessary to comply with the new regulations-regardless of whether or not it is cost effective–there’s little to be gained from repealing it. 

However there is one regulation which, if repealed, would enormously improve the well-being of consumers at very little cost to business: the current food labeling rules. 

Originally set forth by the USDA in the early 1990s, the labels list the calories, total fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar in each serving, along with what proportion of a recommended daily allowance in each serving. The idea upon its implementation is that the labels will help guide consumers to eat a well-balanced diet. 

That has not happened, of course: obesity rates have skyrocketed since the implementation of the new labels, and there’s good evidence that the labels themselves are at least partly to blame. The labels gave people a nudge to reduce their caloric intake of saturated fats–which have what we now recognize to be a low daily allowance–and substitute other calories for it instead, most notably breads, sugar, and other carbohydrates. 

Scientists have learned a lot more about caloric intake and weight gain in the last two decades, and it now seems clear that this is the absolute worst thing for a person to do if he wants to lose or maintain weight. Calories are not equal and the high-fat, low carb diets like the Atkins or South Beach diet are more than just fads–they’re a much more sensible way to eat than to hew to our food label recommendations. 

Thus far the Obama Administration has not seen fit to change the food label standards–in fact, until a few months ago it was trying to expand the current regime so that it applied to delis as well, which may constitute the single most senseless rule making in our nation’s history. 

While it’s unrealistic to expect the current administration to correct this problem, it’s one regulation that the next president can repeal–and in so doing benefit tens of millions of Americans by reducing the incidence of obesity.