The San Francisco Board of Supervisors have approved a ban on Happy Meals and other fast-food servings that fail to meet nutritional standards. While sympathetic to the motivations behind the legislation, I have serious questions over the constitutionality (and logic) of the ban.
For many years, advocates attempted to use tort law to curtail fast-food as a defective product or a nuisance. Like others, I was critical of the use of tort law in those cases. Now, there seems a push to simply try to outlaw such food. Yet, it is hard to see how they can satisfy even the rational basis test under constitutional law. After all, other low nutrition food will be available in a city famous for its Ghirardelli’s chocolate. They are simply targeting those chains which give away toys.
Moreover, this denies parents the ultimate say as to what their children eat. Parents may impose a perfectly healthy diet on their children but allow them to eat at McDonald’s once a week or once a month. This is the ultimate expression of patneralistic legislation — taking such decisions from parents. Companies could challenge the law under equal protection, due process, and other constitutional claims.
The government can certainly demand the posting of nutritional information and campaign against such low nutrition foods. It can certainly ban such food from school cafeterias, but this is one bill (in my view) that would not pass constitutional mustard . . . I mean muster.