On the eighth day, God created pizza. It made everyone forget the forbidden fruit.
So it’s almost sacrilegious that the feds are attacking the pizza business. Nobody should be surprised to learn that the source is Obamacare, thanks to its food police provision tacked on in the Senate.
Hoping to save us from ourselves, the law dictates that pizza chains must give consumers more details about what’s in the box. Calorie postings must be made by chain restaurants, grocers, even vending machines. Disclosure makes sense up to a point, but Congress and the Food and Drug Administration have sped past that point like a brakeless bobsled.
The FDA’s proposed regulations would cut pizza places more deeply than others, including “limited- and full-service restaurants, snack bars (including coffee shops, pastry shops, sandwich counters and similar establishments), cafeterias, drinking places, convenience stores and grocery stores that are chain retail food establishments.”
Pizza is a special target because the average American eats 46 slices a year. The problem with detailed calorie counts for pizza is its variety of options — 34 million combinations of crust, sauce, cheeses and toppings.
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To post even broad disclosures about the ingredients would require $4,000 worth of new menu boards per store, says the pizza industry. The FDA projects an average overall cost of “only” $1,100 each for 278,600 establishments that will be affected. Almost one-fourth are pizza places. Exempted are mom-and-pop outfits; only those with 20 or more stores are targeted.
The FDA says pizza makers must post new menu signs in their actual stores, where most customers never set foot to see the signs because 90 percent of delivered pizzas are ordered by phone or online.
That’s $4,000 for signs almost nobody will read. That includes more than 10,000 Domino’s locations, more than 6,000 Pizza Huts, more than 3,000 Papa John’s stores, and so on for the chain sites among 70,000 pizza parlors.
Signed by President Obama, the overall plan is the brainchild of senators including Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who added Section 4205 to Obamacare. In his ever-folksy way, Mr. Harkin explained: “The individual and societal costs of poor nutrition and diet-related chronic disease compel us to take concrete steps to fashion a society in which the healthy choice is the easy choice.”
Translation: Make it easy for people to know what’s in their food.
The language also lets the FDA meddle with other popular specialties, requiring the postings of “the nutrient content for standard menu items that come in different flavors, varieties, or combinations, but which are listed as a single menu item, such as soft drinks, ice cream, pizza, doughnuts, or children’s combination meals.”
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The FDA issued its proposed regulations in 2011, but resistance from the food industry has delayed approval.
What difference will it make? The Food Marketing Institute predicts costs to the grocery industry of $1 billion in the first year alone. The FDA claims costs would be a third of that, but regardless the cost, it can’t describe any benefits. Its cost-benefit report states: “FDA has not estimated the actual benefits associated with proposed requirements. Food choice and consumption decisions are complex, and FDA is unaware of any comprehensive data allowing accurate predictions.”
All this trouble and it’s anybody’s guess whether it will do any good, but the food police are being dispatched nevertheless.
This is a dirty little secret of federal bureaucracies: Not only do they waste taxpayers’ money, but they also force the private sector to waste money.
For delivery-focused pizza makers, the industry is amazed that the FDA won’t let vendors post information on their websites, as some already do. Or deliver basic information with the pizza. The pie makers offered, but the FDA hasn’t bitten.
Lawmakers from both parties have filed legislation to restrict the FDA’s power over the pizza makers, grocers and others before the regulations are final.
But some Democrats want the Obama administration to become even stricter: Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, both of Connecticut, and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., of New Jersey, have legislation that would dictate a sweeping overhaul of labels on packaging of all foods.
The food police also could be given other tasks. Be very afraid that some would go beyond New York City’s idea of limiting sodas to 16 ounces. Portion control already is required in the school lunch program, championed by first lady Michelle Obama. What might be ahead? Instead of supersizing, imagine the federally mandated downsizing of doughnuts, ice cream scoops and slices of pizza.
About the only thing safe from being downsized by the federal government is the federal government.
• Ernest Istook is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Oklahoma.