TCS Daily

Jim Glassman on CNBC's Kudlow & Company

By James K. Glassman - June 15, 2006 12:00 AM


LARRY KUDLOW, host: All right. Welcome back, everybody.

This is the first of a couple of debates, as though that political section weren't a debate anyway. Should the government regulate fast-food restaurants or should it be left to consumer choice?

Joining me now, Charles Wilson. He is the co-author of "Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food." (Visual of "Chew on This" book) He also, by the way, was the fat checker on "Fast Food Nation," which has just been turned into a movie. Also joining us, our pal James Glassman, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Gentlemen, I believe we have about four minutes, and I'm going to count you down. Let me begin.

Charles Wilson, what should Uncle Sam's role be and why shouldn't individual consumers be the regulators of fast food?

Mr. CHARLES WILSON (Author, "Chew On This"): I believe very strongly in personal responsibility. I feel the consumer has a big role in choosing what they're to eat and what they're not to eat.

I also believe that there--the government has responsibility to make sure that the fast-food companies are completely transparent about the things that they sell. I think if you look at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, the amount of trans fats in those foods. You look at what New England Journal of Medicine has said for years and years about trans-fats. They lead to a dramatically increased rate of heart attacks.

KUDLOW: Were you part of the lawsuit against Kentucky Fried Chicken? Were you on the board?

Mr. WILSON: I was not. I was not.

KUDLOW: But you would be. You essentially agree with that lawsuit.

Mr. WILSON: I didn't agree--I don't think the lawsuit against McDonald's was well-argued several years ago on behalf of Bronx teenagers. I do think with trans fats—I feel like companies, they have an obligation to the consumer to tell the health risk of these foods.

And with trans fats, they lead up to 200,000 heart attacks a year. They lead to a 25 percent increase in the chance of a heart attack, just five grams a day.

KUDLOW: All right. Good opening statement.

Jim Glassman, we've got a little over three minutes. Your response?

Mr. JAMES GLASSMAN (American Enterprise Institute Fellow): Well, I don't think the government has a role. And I also want to say that Charles has written a very alarmist and, in my--in my mind, a kind of dangerous book. He's gone after these fast-food companies in a way that's completely unfair.

Consumer choice is the way to go. For example, in 1979, Wendy's started having a salad bar. Today, you get 34--34 different menus under 400 calories at Burger King. McDonald's is completely transparent about what goes into its food. There is--there are--there's tremendous nutritional information that's being provided.

So consumers can make their own choice--and think about these companies. If they're serving unhealthy food, if they're serving dangerous food, as his book contends, what do you think consumers are going to do?

KUDLOW: All right.

Mr. GLASSMAN: They're going to walk away.

KUDLOW: Now, I think consumer choice is a powerful weapon.

Charles, we're just under two minutes on our debate time.

Mr. WILSON: Well, while we're talking about transparency, I'd like to talk about Mr. Glassman's company, Tech Central Station, and I'd like for him to be transparent about the companies that are funding this Web site.

KUDLOW: All right, Jim, you respond.

Mr. GLASSMAN: Oh, of course. We are completely transparent. Tech Central Station, which is by the way called TCS Daily now, it's a Web site that has lots and lots of visitors every day. It concentrates on science and public policy. And we have many corporate sponsors, and among them is McDonald's.

KUDLOW: Oh, my gosh!

Mr. GLASSMAN: And we say that right out, right out front.

KUDLOW: All right. We all have--I--

Mr. GLASSMAN: There's no doubt about that. But let's talk about...

KUDLOW: I'm a walking conflict--

Mr. GLASSMAN: ...the issues, and I can understand why he doesn't want to.

KUDLOW: I'm a walking conflict of interest. But, Jim Glassman, I'm very interested in this because you do want the government to play a stricter role in this. It isn't just transparency, in all fairness?

Mr. WILSON: I think--I believe with trans fats, I feel that if the fast-food companies are not stepping up to the plate, and if they're not fully disclosing these health benefits, I do feel that the FDA would not be a bad thing to ban trans fats as Denmark has done. The fast-food companies there, Denmark has banned trans fats.

KUDLOW: All right.

Mr. WILSON: They're gone from the diet.

KUDLOW: Good point. Now we're running out of time. James Glassman, the FDA, do they have a role to play in this?

Mr. GLASSMAN: I don't think it's a very big role. And, you know, I--as far as trans fats are concerned, people know whether trans fats are there. They can make their own decisions.

You know, and I really think that Charles is being somewhat disingenuous by sort of concentrating on this one little thing, trans fats, whereas his book is tremendously alarmist and he--what he's really trying to do is get people not go to fast-food restaurants. He's talking about how dangerous it is. It's dangerous for the employees. It's dangerous in the meatpacking plants.

KUDLOW: What about--all right. Hang on. Hang on, Jim.

Mr. GLASSMAN: And this is absolutely absurd.

KUDLOW: We're going to extend this debate just a little bit.

Charles, what about low-income people who don't have the luxury of necessarily, going, A, to the health food restaurants or, B, to the very finest restaurants? It is their choice, and those choices in some cases, particularly McD's, has improved the menu. What are you going to do, because some say your view is a kind of elitist view? What about the low-income people?

Mr. WILSON: Well, I think a lot of good social movements have been started in the middle class. And you see it has been a dramatic shift in the last 20, 30 years in how people in the middle class and upper classes have eaten and their awareness of their diet. I believe that this can then put pressure on these companies to do the right thing and not to heavily market to these lower income neighborhoods and not to heavily market a dollar menu, which is pure--

KUDLOW: But that's all they got, Charles. That's the thing. I mean...

Mr. WILSON: They don't.

KUDLOW: ...where--you know up in Harlem, New York, that's where the biggest concentration is here in town. That's all they've got.

Mr. WILSON: It is--it is--

KUDLOW: A dollar goes further, whether you like it or not--the dollar goes further at these fast-food restaurants.

Mr. WILSON: But doesn't have to be that way. And there's other things we can do on a government level, on a community level to bring--to encourage farmer markets to come into these neighborhoods, to create environments where people are more able to walk and to exercise. There's all sorts of things we can do on public policy level, as well as an individual choice level.

KUDLOW: Jim Glassman, last word, just a few seconds please. In your judgment, have the KFCs, have the McD's, have the others improved their menu?

Mr. GLASSMAN: Absolutely. The choices...

KUDLOW: And is it consumer choice?

Mr. GLASSMAN: ...are enormous.

KUDLOW: Jimmy, is it consumer choice that's driving that or is it more governmental regulatory factors?

Mr. GLASSMAN: Well, it's absolutely not governmental regulatory, it is consumer's choice. Consumers are changing their habits, and absolutely these restaurant chains, and by the way, they're not just big chains, they are owned--the restaurants themselves are owned by small businesses...

KUDLOW: Right.

Mr. GLASSMAN: ...franchisees. There are farmers involved, there are ranchers involved, there are meat packers involved, and consumer choice is absolutely the way to go in the United...

KUDLOW: Last--

Mr. GLASSMAN: ...States of America.

KUDLOW: Last word, literally. Jim Glassman, when was the last time you went to a fast-food place?

Mr. GLASSMAN: About two weeks ago.

KUDLOW: Charlie, when was the...

Mr. GLASSMAN: I go to McDonald's.

KUDLOW: ...last time you went to a fast-food place?

Mr. WILSON: Four years.

KUDLOW: Four years. All right. There you have it.

Mr. GLASSMAN: You ought to try it. It's good, Charlie.

KUDLOW: Charles Wilson, we thank you very much. James Glassman, we thank you very much.

Mr. GLASSMAN: Thank you.

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