A Good Idea Gone Bad
©2012 Ross Williams
Starting yesterday, March 1 2012, your most popular packaged meats in the grocery store must have nutrition labels on them. This is another USDA nutrition rule created in response to legions of American dieters whose diet programs already have such information that they give out for free in pamphlets, in handbooks and online, but which the dieters want on the food itself. ...because ...it’s ... more handy to throw away when they get it home?
I don’t know.
Anyway, the USDA, a government bureaucracy which knows how to tell people what to do but little else, has responded to this groundswell of informational activism by doing what it does best: telling people what to do. And the people they told what to do are meat packagers, and what they told them to do was put boilerplate nutritional information on popular packaged meats; your ground beefs and ground turkeys, your pork tenderloin roasts, your chicken wings, pork chops, and the like.
Sure, for some people. I imagine the people that will be served by this without inconvenience will be the wealthy suburbanites trying to drop five pounds for the summer bikini season. They will need to know, on the spot, whether it’s better to serve the other white meat, or the original white meat on the crust-free finger sandwiches for Sunday brunch. Everyone else, though, will suffer more than they benefit.
First, this information is currently readily available. Every responsible diet program in existence – and I will exclude the grapefruit and celery and boiled lettuce diets – has the nutritional information it gives to its dieters; those on self-regulated diets have books and blackberries and Wikipedia. I just googled and came up with several hundred thousand hits on “Nutritional Information for Meat” most of which have nothing to do with this new USDA rule.
Everyone who’s ever been on a diet knows that a serving of meat is four ounces; hell, I know this and I’ve never been on a weight-loss diet in my life. I learned it by paying attention to what goes on around me.
The only thing that slapping this information onto meat package labels will accomplish for everyone else is that meat packagers will have to spend another nickel to meet the government requirements for packaging meat. And for every nickel the producer spends on packaging up the product, the buyer of that product sees another 7 or 8 cents leave his pocket.
At some point, someone won’t be able to eat by paying for the government’s food packaging rules. That’s not a real good weight-loss plan to be on.
Every rule a government bureaucracy throws at others to blindly follow, even if it’s a merely “informational” rule such as this one, requires an enforcement mechanism to make sure everyone complies with the raging swellness of the rule. What is the point of having a rule if those who break it can’t be punished? Might as well not make rules. And if they don’t make rules, why exist at all?
No government bureaucracy will ever fail to seize an opportunity to make itself more intrusive nor, once intruding, compulsory. They’ll need to hire more inspectors to inspect meat packaging to ensure that the proper nutritional labels are affixed in the proper way, are easily readable, and not obscured by meat juice or smudged ink. ...and keep in mind that the regulation which defines the proper way to print and affix nutritional labels is easily 40 pages long and decipherable only by a loyyer, who will also have to be hired by every grocery store at $250 an hour to translate the gibberish into English that a union meat cutter can understand.
The new USDA inspectors will be paid traditional Government Service scale which the government itself acknowledges is significantly greater than similar private wage scale, and each will have a traditional federal employee pension and healthcare plan that he pays not a dime toward either one and that we will pay for him. Their job will be to scour the countryside searching for meat packagers who fail to put nutrition labels on meat containing information that is easily found – literally – EVERYwhere for anyone who actually wants it, thus making it redundant if not outright irrelevant to place on meat packages where it will be ignored and thrown away by everyone else. ...by which I mean by everyone.
But I suppose there may be a few Americans who don’t live near a bookstore, and don’t have the internet, and don’t get the free nutrition information from a diet plan already, and they may want the information contained on these labels.
So perhaps the USDA could print up posters of this information to stick in the grocery stores near the deli, and individual pamphlets to mail to households which request it. Of course, this alternative doesn’t come with a built-in USDA cop force, and it costs less, and it won’t let them boss anybody around and compel others to do the USDA’s work for it. Other than that, it makes perfect sense.