130328_FoodPoliceBadge picWith the Food and Drug Administration moving to declare partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) unsafe, we’ve called out for calm and objected to this potentially devastating precedent. Our Senior Research Analyst told the Los Angeles Times:

Government paternalism is frustrating, especially when the government blurs the line between unhealthy and unsafe […] No one says that trans fats are a health food, but that doesn’t mean they need to be effectively banned from the food supply.

The trans fats decision is a dangerous precedent for food freedom, as another Los Angeles Times piece notes. A colleague of Walter Willett, the socialist-sympathizing would-be diet dictator who heads Harvard’s School of Public Health, expressed hope that salt would be similarly regulated. Even more concerning, a spokesperson for the $100 million Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggested that sugar could face similar regulation. (A petition by the prohibitionist Center for Science in the Public Interest to that effect was already filed earlier this year.)

Even worse, the regulation is unnecessary. It’s actually fairly difficult to even find foods with significant quantities of partially hydrogenated oils, even without a ban. Consumers demanded that food companies replace trans fats, and companies delivered.

Indeed, in a significant irony, they delivered not by playing the activist “organic or death” game but by improving food technology. The whole reason that trans-fat-free cooking oils that don’t contain saturated fat (remember, the Center for Science in the Public Interest drove restaurants to use trans fats with an anti-saturated fat campaign back in the ‘80s) exist is because Monsanto, bane of the food movement, developed a genetically engineered soybean that produced a healthier, shelf-stable cooking oil.

There should be a lesson here, but regulators appear unlikely to take it. When people became aware of the potential health concerns surrounding trans fats, they went straight to companies with their money and demanded change that biotechnology and food science delivered. But instead of seeing this as a model, the FDA has chosen to use government fiat and activists have declared open war on biotechnology. What a shame.