Government — Codify What’s Already Happening, Then Take Credit For Itby Brad Warbiany
Those who favor government intervention in the regulation of business often work with an assumption: that businesses would not self-regulate given the chance. Currently, there is a major push towards healthy eating habits, and if the pro-government crowd is correct, businesses will not go above and beyond the FDA’s labeling requirements unless they’re forced to. However, how true is that assumption?
Apparently, not very true at all:
Next month, General Mills Inc. and Kellogg Co. will begin emblazoning their breakfast cereals with symbols that summarize complex nutritional information — part of the growing use of logos to steer harried grocery shoppers toward healthier choices.
Absent federal action, food manufacturers and retailers have taken matters into their own hands. PepsiCo Inc. uses the “Smart Spot” symbol on diet Pepsi, baked Lay’s chips and other products. Hannaford Bros., a New England supermarket chain, uses a zero to three-star system to rate more than 25,000 food items it sells.
The General Mills and Kellogg’s versions will be similar, highlighting fat, sugar, salt and other nutrient levels, as well what percentage each contributes to what consumers typically require, officials said.
The article goes on to say that the various labeling schemes, since they’re not uniform, are more likely to confuse customers than help them. I’m not sure I agree with that, nor do I think it’s an argument that justifies the FDA. In the absence of government, consumer demand for easily understandable and uniform standards would result in agreement among these companies rather quickly…
And quite possibly more quickly than the government would do it:
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration took a first step toward clearing matters up, inviting food companies, trade groups, watchdog organizations, medical experts and its overseas counterparts to share how front-label symbols, like the “traffic light” system used in Britain, can improve public health.
The FDA stressed the meeting was a preliminary step as it considers whether to establish a national symbol system. Any action is likely years away — and, even then, any system is likely to be voluntary.
So, they’ll be late to the party, they’ll probably establish a voluntary code that is the minimally-effective standard possible, and they’ll make it voluntary. And then they’ll take credit for keeping you safe.
Yep… Government watches the signals in the market, codifies the regulations that are already starting to come into existence, and then takes credit for their existence.
“But wait!”, you say, “what about regulations that aren’t heavily supported by consumers? Surely the government is doing good things there!” Not really… If you watch government’s regulation of most businesses, regulations are either written or heavily influenced by lobbying groups. Those lobbying groups are bought and paid for by— you guessed it— the businesses themselves. Often those regulations take the form of giving politicians something to take credit for, while the regulations hamper entrance to the market and helps the established businesses (who can afford lobbyists) maintain duopoly or oligopoly positions.
Of course, when they say they “make you safer”, all they do is give you choices that most people (particularly those who really need to) don’t even take advantage of:
Krautheim said her Council’s own research showed taste still trumped all for consumers when choosing what to eat, with convenience, cost and nutrition all vying for second place.
I’m living proof. Like most Americans, I could stand to lose a few pounds. And I’m more than intelligent enough to determine which foods are good for me, and which are bad. Yet I still go out and purchase high-calorie, fatty meals, lots of red meat, cheese, sugary drinks, etc. I’d claim evolutionary biology as the culprit (humans are wired to eat the most calories they can, because we’ve only been “rich and abundant” for a blip in our evolutionary history), but it’s really just a matter of willpower.
So let’s review. Businesses are already responding to consumer pressure by engaging upon labeling schemes to provide more information to their customers. In the absence of government regulation, it is likely that these labeling schemes would eventually be standardized, as has happened in countless other fields (such as electronics, etc). It is also likely that those labeling schemes will be more tailored to the information consumers want than anything that government issues. Government is getting involved, but they’re doing so with a typical government pace, and even when they do issue regulations, it’s likely to be limited and voluntary anyway. And all this really only provides information to those who were already predisposed to doing the sort of research required to make healthy choices. Someone remind me what purpose they serve, and why I’m forced to give them tax dollars again?