Nanny State

Frustrated States Banning Local Food Bans

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States legislators fed up with local food bans in their states are passing laws that effectively ban the bans, reports the New York Times.

Several state legislatures are passing laws that prohibit municipalities and other local governments from adopting regulations aimed at curbing rising obesity and improving public health, such as requiring restaurants to provide nutritional information on menus or to eliminate trans fats from the foods they serve.

In some cases, lawmakers are responding to complaints from business owners who are weary of playing whack-a-mole with varying regulations from one city to the next. Legislators have decided to sponsor state laws to designate authority for the rules that individual restaurants have to live by.

Florida and Alabama recently adopted such limits, while Georgia, Tennessee and Utah have older statutes on their books. Earlier this year, Arizona prohibited local governments from forbidding the marketing of fast food using "consumer incentives" like toys.

Critics contend the laws are being slipped in under the noses of public-health advocates, who apparently do not have Internet access at their summer homes.

Ohio is one state considering a law that would outlaw local bans. If passed, the law would invalidate Cleveland's pending ban.

The provision, if adopted, could overturn a Cleveland ban on serving foods with trans fats in restaurants, which is scheduled to take effect in 2013.

The Times notes these measures have the backing of the nation's largest and most powerful restaurant group.

Sue Hensley, a spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, said it supported the efforts of its state members to protect restaurants from what she described as "a patchwork of regulation."

"We feel it is in the best interests of the consumer to have one uniform standard," Ms. Hensley said.

This mimics a successful strategy first used by the California Restaurant Association to pass a statewide menu-labeling law there, thus putting an end to myriad such laws throughout the state. Last year the National Restaurant Association adopted the same approach, which led to the inclusion of nationwide menu-labeling rules as part of the Obamacare law.

In effect, these new ban bans signal a predictable shift for the restaurant lobby. Instead of biting the bullet and embracing uniform laws that eliminate patchwork laws but add to restaurants' regulatory burden, they've begun to push for uniform laws that both eliminate the patchwork and reduce the burden.

Baylen Linnekin is a lawyer and the executive director of Keep Food Legal, a nonprofit that promotes culinary freedom, the idea that people should be free to make and consume whatever commestibles they prefer. For more information and to join or donate, go here now.