Trans Fats vs. Salmonella infected Jalepeños

California has just banned trans-fats from being used in restaurants:

At the same time, the FDA has discovered the source of an outbreak of salmonella that has hospitalised more than a thousand people and killed two. The agency advised consumers to avoid raw jalepeños:

In my mind, the FDA has behaved sensibly with regard to the jalepeños. Even the most Randroid libertarian would be hard pushed to argue for food hygiene to be completely regulated by market pressure. Of course, consumers are going to choose to eat in restaurants that look clean, so market pressure does enforce standards of hygiene. At the same time, finding the source of a bacterial infection is not something that the typical shopper or diner can do, so government agencies and regulations have a clear role.

However, I don’t agree with a ban on trans-fats. Whether a food is infected with salmonella or not is not something that can be discerned easily. When you go into a restaurant, you hope that you are going to eat food is free from germs. If it is not, then this is not something that you do knowingly. You cannot make an informed decision. That is why government inspectors are needed. When you go into a restaurant, it is possible to know whether a food has been made with trans-fats or not. It is possible to make a decision. Therefore the ban seems unnecessary. Clear labelling would make more sense in this case.

2 thoughts on “Trans Fats vs. Salmonella infected Jalepeños

  1. Saul July 28, 2008 / 3:45 pm

    Did you read about the ‘Nudge’ theory, currently being championed by David Cameron?

    It’s an American book I think, saying that rather than banning things the government should be nudging the populace into making the right choice by, for example, labelling products.


  2. Robert Impey July 29, 2008 / 1:54 am

    That sounds like an idea that I could agree with.

    I definitely think that customers should have access to information about the products that they buy. Whether this is practical or not is a moot point. I read recently about a chain of pizza restaurants in the US that was being affected by a new law on labelling. The law stated that chains of restaurants with more than 15 outlets had to show the calorific values of their food. The pizza chain in the article had 17 stores and was having to spend thousands of dollars getting all their pizzas analysed, which was more of a burden for them than it would be for McDonalds. One of the chefs pointed out that the likelihood that the figures would be accurate was low because each pizza was made to order.

    I don’t think that banning a product is necessarily tyrannical. Banning lead paint could be an example of a sensible ban.


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