The New York General Assembly is at it again. They're looking out for the health of the people of New York, legislating behavior for the betterment of all. Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) has proposed a new law that would fine restaurants $1,000 for each violation for including an additive in their meals that has been linked to heart disease and other health problems when it is consumed in excess.
"No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises," the bill, A. 10129, states in part.
Never mind that uncounted recipies require salt. Do you like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies? Forget those and their added salt. How about corned beef? That's cooked in a brine. French fries? Sure, you can have them without salt, but who would want to?
Did you notice that "salt in any form" wording? Think of how many pre-made spice and other mixes include salt. Chain restaurants in particular are once again going to have to alter their recipies to fit New York State's agenda, increasing their costs and reducing the flavor appeal of their dishes even as the economy struggles to regain its footing.
In fact, unless they make everything from scratch, every restauranteur will be exposed to the possibility of a $1,000 fine for each customer it serves just because they bought ingredients from an out-of-state restaurant supplier. I have read the bill. Its nebulous language doesn't include any exceptions for this type of occurence. Rather the "in any form" wording seems to specifically include these products. The wording could easily be interpreted such that each food item in a meal is a separate infraction, resulting in multiple fines per customer!
Then there are grocery stores with prepared food sections. Since there aren't many groceries of this type in Mr. Ortiz' home district of Brooklyn, I'm sure he didn't think about them as he crafted his legislation. Are these legally considered restaurants, and therefore do these stores need to stop selling prepared foods and groceries that include salt? Will these stores be exempted from the legislation because they are not traditional restaurants? My reading of the bill says no, unless New York's statutes have existing examptions for them. What about beverages? Could these be included in the ban on salt? Selling Gatorade in a restaurant could become a crime. Twelve ounces of Coca-Cola has about 40mg of sodium; is this a back-door to banning soft drinks? The poor wording of this legislation opens the door to judicial nightmares and a quagmire of heavy fines and class-action lawsuits.
The impractical and the unenforceable nature of the bill should send it to quick defeat, hopefully in the General Assembly or later in the courts. Unlike trans-fats, which are a manufactured substance, salt is a naturally occuring product that merely needs to be collected or mined. As an electrolyte small to moderate amounts are a requirement for a healthy diet, particularly for healthy and active children and adults. It is found in a large number of food products for its flavor-adding and preservative values. Yet the wording of the legislation opens the door to the State doling out fines for simply using, for example, pre-manufactured bread dough.
What this legislation illustrates more than anything is the desire to legislate behavior that is common to almost all politicians and in particular to liberals. When they control our health care, when they control what we can and cannot eat and how we maintain our own bodies, what liberties do we really enjoy?
"The consumer needs to make their own health choices. Just as doctors and the occasional visit to a hospital can't truly control how a person chooses to maintain their health, neither can chefs nor the occasional visit to a restaurant," said Jeff Nathan, the executive chef and co-owner of Abigael's on Broadway. "Modifying trans fats and sodium intake needs to be home based for optimal health. Regulating restaurants will not solve this health issue."
Health cannot be legislated. The State simply can't do enough to force people to actually be healthy. Eliminating salt from resttaurants is not going to magically make people healthier, it's just going to harm restauranteurs. The Nanny State is not going to make us healthy. It is our individual responsibility to maintain our own health.
Cross-posted at The Minority Report Blog.