By Quentin Fottrell
Talking Shop: J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the non-profit Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington, believes government regulations should not try to influence consumer choice, or the ingredients in products provided by food companies.
He is a frequent writer of newspaper op-ed articles and letters on the subject, and an occasional television pundit. As nutritionists push for a tax on junk food and soda, Wilson tells Pay Dirt that the government should not penalize the choices we make – even the unhealthy ones.
Pay Dirt: Although the organization is called the Center for Consumer Freedom, it represents interests in the food and drink industry.
It was called the Guest Choice Network many, many moons ago. We are like a chamber of commerce for food issues. I don’t like to hide the ball. Part of our funding certainly comes from the food industry.
Is this a culture war between corporations and big government, or a commercial one?
There’s certainly an enormous culture war that’s going on. I don’t think it’s someone decision to tell us what we put in our bodies. There is a social contract between the people and the government to protect us and provide security. The government’s role is appropriate where there no choice, like with e-coli bacteria. There is no consumer in this country who says I want unwashed lettuce. There is a difference between protecting us from ourselves, and protecting us from the unknown like a pathogen that has injected itself into the food system.
Some nutritionists would argue that fast-food is a kind of pathogen.
People like options. There are a lot of people who don’t like eating in chain restaurants.
Food companies could add less salt, more spices.
Food technologists are always focused on how to make their products taste good and healthier.
Sugar and salt are addictive, and nutritionists argue that food that food manufacturers put excessive amounts in their products.
We’re all addicted to food. It’s called hunger. It’s not an addiction like crack or heroin by any stretch. There are hundreds of millions of Americans who can break that addiction. To frame it as such a defeatist mentality takes the role of personal responsibility out of it.
What about corporate responsibility?
The same people who say the government should stay out of our bedrooms say the government should be in our kitchens. Why is it that this one part of our personal lives that seems to be regulated?
Some people are more vulnerable than others. Not all are as well-informed or educated about healthy diets for them or for their children. Public education programs are important, but shouldn’t food companies play a part too?
It’s like we move to padded sidewalks with cars that have bumpers that are twice as large. Why is it that with obesity that the obese get thrown under the bus? The people who want to regulate fat people are not fat. For instance, I get enormously frustrated when I hear that people say you should tax soda. It’s an elitist mentality. This is about revenue. Very rarely do such taxes actually combat the sin.
Pay Dirt readers, do you agree?