So I don’t like the idea of local governments enacting menu labeling...
I received an email from a friend who was not happy to learn that I am the sponsor of a bill to clarify that local governments may not enact menu labeling; a growing trend where government requires restaurants to provide patrons information on the nutritional content of their offerings.
Supporters of menu labeling love the idea because they feel it will surely cure the “obesity epidemic”; even though American society has grown heavier not slimmer since other food labeling laws have come into effect.
Objectors say they see menu labeling as more of the nanny-state government movement. Further, it creates a burden on citizens (business owners) that is far too great. Modifying menus or ingredients becomes inflexible due to the expense of changing menu board, menu and drive through signage; additionally utilizing a lab to determine the nutritional content of offerings is exceedingly expensive. It is consumers that will pay these costs through higher prices.
Many question if the added expense is actually useful enough to pay for. Isn’t it common knowledge that if starchy potatoes fried in oil can make you fat then supersized starchy potatoes fried in oil will probably make you, well, fatter?
However, my friend’s email, and my bill, raise a whole new issue. She feels that local governments are closest to the people and are more inclined to understand what laws they need therefore I should not be trying to stop them from employing such an ordinance if they want to do so.
It is very important to understand that the only reason local governments exist is because the state has granted them a Charter to exist. A Charter is like a Constitution and grants local governments permission to govern themselves through ordinances within the range of their Chartered powers.
To be clear, Local government ordinances cannot circumvent state law. For instance, local governments cannot make their own criminal laws; it would violate equal protection of the law for there to be varying penalties for murder in different counties or communities.
Local governments can fill a void in state law if there is no state law on the subject in effect, and the ordinance is inside of the powers specified in their Charter.
In time the state sometimes finds it necessary to take action and impose an overriding state law to replace a selection of dissimilar ordinances on the same issue. For example, the state may find that varying ordinances among the local governments are too numerous, too differentiated, and in need of standardization due to a compelling, a rational or a legitimate burden created for citizens to comply with. Local menu labeling ordinances are a good example of this.
If a requirement for menu labeling is ever put in place I hope people can agree that it is truly a measure that would be best imposed broadly, perhaps by the federal government, because even the variance among the states creates too great a compliance burden for citizens.
Harvard University was one of the first to require menu labeling. They have abandoned the project due to complaints that it aggravated students' eating disorders. If you want to read more about the Food Police there is a very good article by the Consumer Rights League. I recently had Jim Terry from Consumer Rights speak at my task force at ALEC.
Yep, you can officially "label me" as one of those that is not in favor of government instituted menu labeling on any level for many reasons.