A new Massachusetts law sponsored by the marvelously named state Sen. Cynthia Stone Creem (D-Middlesex and Norfolk) aims to protect food allergy sufferers from the scourge of restaurants keen to kill their customers, and restaurants from the scourge of allergic customers keen to kill themselves.

In addition to basic awareness-raising poster and video mandates, the law contains this forehead-slappingly stupid requirement:

Every person licensed as an innholder or common victualer, when serving food, shall...include on all menus a notice to customers of the customer’s obligation to inform the server about any food allergies.

That's right: The law requires restaurants to use their menus to remind people whose throats will close up upon encountering a peanut to ask if there's any peanuts in their food. Really? We needed Sen. Stone Creem to make that conversation happen?

The law graciously allows restaurants until January 1, 2010, to add the warning sentence to their menus. Meanwhile, allergy sufferers will likely be dying in droves, without that vital reminder to ask if the food they're about to eat will kill them.

There's also a voluntary program where restaurants can create a book with all the ingredients they use in every dish and thus be certified "Food Allergy Friendly." Hilarious syntax aside—are the restaurants pro-allergy?—this program is a classic example of legislation that need not be. If restaurants want to make their ingredients list available and advertise that to allergy sufferers, more power to them. In fact, Chef Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger, who has been pushing this legislation for years, already does this at his restaurant.


My former boss and New York Times science columnist John Tierney likes to tell this tale of pro-regulation bias in the media:

I once sat in on a newspaper story conference the day after an armored-car company was robbed of millions of dollars bound for banks. The first idea that came up for a follow-up story was: Does this robbery show the need for stricter regulation of armored-car companies?

We kicked this idea around until I suggested that companies in the business of transporting cash already had a fairly strong incentive not to lose it—presumably an even stronger incentive than any government official regulating their security arrangements. That story idea died, but not the mind-set that produced it.

This goes double for legislators.

Via Mike Riggs