Ending War on Coffee Latest Example of Why Government Shouldn’t Play Dietician

A few months back we wrote about California’s “nags and nannies who relish forbidding pleasure, especially those of a gastronomic nature,” and their success in convincing a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to issue a preliminary ruling which requires stores that sell coffee to post cancer warning labels around their businesses.

The story, though, has taken an unusual turn.

The Associated Press reports that, “California officials, having concluded coffee drinking is not a risky pastime, are proposing a regulation that will essentially tell consumers of America’s favorite beverage they can drink up without fear.” The AP calls the decision, “unprecedented.” It is also, given how this state has for so long eagerly acted as residents’ meddlesome chaperon, quite shocking.

The relief came June 16 from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. It favors a regulation that would remove coffee from the list of villains, which now totals about 850 substances that supposedly cause cancer or birth defects, that has been compiled under 1986’s Proposition 65. The office made the decision, said the AP, because there are more than 1,000 published studies that have failed to find adequate evidence that coffee causes cancer. It deserves a hearty “thanks” for going against the California grain.

Much of this state’s hectored-at-every-corner populace would be happy to see other bureaucratic authorities follow the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s lead. Government has a miserable record of deciding what is healthy for us and what isn’t. Its bossy recommendations have too often been colossal blunders.

Look no further than the Food Pyramid for confirmation. Released in 1992 by the Agriculture Department, it was at one time considered to be the authoritative guideline on the proper way to eat. But it turned out to be wrong.

“With an overstuffed breadbasket as its base, the Food Guide Pyramid failed to show that whole wheat, brown rice, and other whole grains are healthier than refined grains,” says the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“With fat relegated to the ‘use sparingly’ tip, it ignored the health benefits of plant oils — and instead pointed Americans to the type of low-fat diet that can worsen blood cholesterol profiles and make it harder to keep weight in check. It grouped healthy proteins (fish, poultry, beans, and nuts) into the same category as unhealthy proteins (red meat and processed meat) and overemphasized the importance of dairy products.”

Blogger and University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds noted some years ago that “the surge in diabetes accompanied the government’s switch to the politically inspired Food Pyramid” and The Guardian reported two years ago that as “consumers dutifully obeyed” its tenets, “instead of becoming healthier, we grew fatter and sicker.”

Naturally the federal government issued a replacement pyramid, then moved on to a dinner plate divided into four food groups next to a glass of “dairy,” which these days can mean anything from whole milk to substances called milk that are made of nuts. It would be safe to assume that the plate, too, will eventually be found wanting.

In addition to being browbeaten by the Food Pyramid, we have also been nudged toward trans fats (hydrogenated oils) as a healthier alternative to the saturated fats that were being vilified by government, only to find out that they are worse for the human body. Add to this the unjustified cholesterol scare, the campaign to cut sodium intake, and government’s unfounded insistence that eating breakfast was the path to a lean body, and the sum is a ruinous jumble decided not by sound nutritional science but politics.

California’s coffee lesson, as well as the other ministerial intrusions into dietary and health issues, are clear evidence that government is a poor, and quite often destructive, nanny. It needs to, as the old saying goes, stick to its knitting, which is certainly limited and doesn’t extend to the choices we should be free to make without pressure from third-party busybodies.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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