Written Testimony of
Vice President of Public Affairs, Center for Individual Freedom
House Government Reform Committee
Hearing on "The Supersizing
June 3, 2004
Chairman Davis, Congressman
Waxman, members of the Committee on Government Reform:
Given the recent report
from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrating
that obesity and diseases caused by obesity are now leading killers
in the United States, there can be no question that obesity is and
ought to be a major health concern for all Americans.
The central questions
now are: whether and if so how the federal government should respond.
Liberal interest groups
such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest would like
to use the CDC findings to further their extreme agenda and force
increased federal regulation of our food choices. CSPI and similar
groups have led a long and frequently disingenuous campaign to convince
Americans to eschew fat, sugar, meat, and more. At the same time,
they have undertaken an on-going lobbying effort aimed at eliciting
tough government regulation of food, diet, and consumer choice.
With increased attention
focused on obesity and other nutritional concerns, CSPI and similar
groups now see an opportunity to move their agenda forward. However,
their proposals reveal an underlying belief that Americans cannot
make responsible choices about what to eat and drink. For example,
in recent years CSPI and similar groups have pushed such radical
regulatory steps as a new federal tax on junk food, sodas, and other
snacks (the so-called "Twinkie tax"), granting the USDA
complete authority to regulate all foods in schools nationwide with
an eye toward banning sodas, cookies, candy and other snacks, and
federally mandated labeling of restaurant menus with detailed nutrition
CSPI and other groups
seem to prefer that Americans eat a federally-mandated diet of lettuce,
skinned apples, carrot sticks, and soy-milk. Over the years, based
on an abundance of questionable studies and unsupported assertions,
they have identified dozens of foods that they claim should be eliminated
or severely restricted from our diets. For example, spaghetti and
meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, ham sandwiches, corned beef, pork
chops, coffee, enchiladas, gyro sandwiches, and even luncheon meats.
Heaven forbid you enjoy Chinese takeout. CSPI has railed against
mu shu pork, General Tsos chicken, lo mein, kung pao chicken,
sweet and sour pork, and Chinese restaurants, in general. CSPI has
even warned against eating the most basic of American staples
Embracing this agenda
is the wrong approach. Recently, the Center for Individual Freedom
dubbed CSPIs proposal for a complete federal takeover of school
food choices "legislative lunacy." To go well beyond that
proposal and insert the federal government far into Americans
food choices would constitute outright regulatory madness.
What role should the federal
government have in combating obesity?
First, we must recognize
that there is no single cure-all for obese Americans. There are
literally hundreds of causes of obesity, and there are as many solutions
as there are causes. However, its important to note that in
and of themselves, hamburgers, hotdogs, sodas, candy, white bread,
rice, potatoes, pasta, and even apple pie dont cause obesity.
Instead, with the exception of medical conditions, obesity most
often results from individuals eating too much while exercising
Nevertheless, there are
limited steps that the government can take in a general campaign
against obesity. For example, the federal government can continue
and enhance its efforts to encourage responsible decision-making,
promote increased exercise, and issue balanced dietary recommendations
based on careful, unbiased science.
But the operative word
in the preceding statement is "limited." We must recognize
that the federal government cannot and should not embark on a massive
new regulatory scheme designed to make us all slimmer and trimmer.
First, there are countless
practical problems. Congress cannot possibly be expected to legislate
effectively against obesity. There are too many causes and too many
problems for an omnibus Congressional solution. Nor is it feasible
for Congress to instruct a federal regulatory authority to fight
obesity through rule-making. Further, scientific understanding of
human nutrition, diet needs, and the causes of obesity improves
constantly. The government is ill-equipped to understand and integrate
these advances into its legislation or regulation.
Second, and more importantly,
the federal government shouldnt be in the business of telling
Americans what and what not to eat and drink. Our democracy is founded
on the idea that individuals have basic freedoms. Among these, certainly,
is the right to choose what we put on our plates and in our goblets.
But the anti-food extremists like CSPI would gladly take away that
freedom and mandate our diet in order to save us from ourselves.
It is time for these zealous anti-food advocates to understand that
it is not the federal governments job to save us from ourselves
by making our choices for us.
Obesity has been labeled
a crisis in America. And such labels all too frequently spur a Congressional
impulse to "dont just sit there, do something."
In this case, its incumbent on Congress to resist this impulse.
Let Americans continue to make free choices about what to eat and
drink. Certainly, the federal government can and should continue
to encourage us to make informed choices. Certainly, the federal
government can and should help us understand what constitutes a
balanced diet. And certainly, the federal government can and should
help us sift through the myriad of scientific (and unscientific)
information about the right combinations of diet and exercise. The
government can and should take a more aggressive role in regulating
the advertising and sale of diet schemes that fraudulently promise
what they cannot deliver, often with disastrous health consequences.
But Congress cannot and
should not start down the road of food regulation or punishment
through taxation. In the end, Americans must make good choices and
be responsible for their actions. Were it otherwise, we would not
be truly free.
Center for Individual Freedom (www.cfif.org)
is a constitutional advocacy organization dedicated to protecting
individual freedom and individual rights.