Published in USA Today, August 11, 2009
Where does it end? Congress already has passed regressive taxes on tobacco and is considering taxes on soft drinks and other sugary beverages. Now the federal government wants to get involved in policing restaurant menus to make sure they include calorie counts.
This will increase the cost of restaurant meals, deter creativity and innovation, and inject government further into our lives. The nanny state seems to know no bounds.
Goodbye blue-plate special and hello litigation. Every restaurant that wants to add a new menu item will have to make sure it complies with pages and pages of new federal regulations in determining calorie counts for menu items. Pity the poor cook who has an idea for a great new dish but gets the count wrong, only to be hauled into court by the Food Police.
Legislators say the requirement would apply only to large restaurants now, but it surely will trickle down to cover every corner diner in the country. The bill as it is currently written requires calorie listings on menus at chains that have more than 20 locations, but the big chains already are lobbying to have the measure expanded to cover restaurants with at least three locations and $1 million in sales.
Are they trying to kill the independents? Those few neighborhood restaurants that are surviving the intense competition from big restaurant chains with massive advertising budgets surely will be hit by the new rule sooner rather than later. The National Restaurant Association is endorsing the bill, proving that little guys finish last and that the association is willing to feed the independents to the regulators.
This is another pointless and expensive federal proposal that will lead to cookie-cutter menus and will actually retard our incentive to think for ourselves. Do politicians really think that people don't know that a salad has fewer calories than a cheeseburger?
This is a food fight we don't need. Congress should be focusing on an issue it can do something about — like the bloated waistline of the federal budget.
Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute, a non-profit research organization that focuses on health reform.