Eggnog Gestapo?

Why the bureaucratic tyrants at the FDA regulate your yuletide drinks.

NRO’s Kevin Williamson wants to “burn my passport and move into a fortified rural compound” over news that the FDA dictates that egg nog have at least 6 percent milk fat.

Somewhere in the vast array of federal rules and regulations — the 10,000 Commandments — is one specifying the minimum of milk fat that eggnog shall contain. Did the men who fought at Lexington and Concord do so in order to set up a new regime that would manage their lives on this level? King George III would never have dreamed of such imperious behavior. Is there nothing too trivial for the federal government to micromanage?

I do not think for a second that Sam Barbieri, purveyor of the Sam’s Serious Eggnog that has enriched more than one National Review holiday party, would poison us all if not for the nog police, and I do not think that American children, much less American adults, require a federal intermediary to monitor milk-fat levels. I do not see how this sort of thing can possibly be defended, or why Americans put up with it.

Certainly, a lot of this sort of thing is silliness. Congress gave the FDA a broad mandate to regulate food safety and set standards and, being a bureaucracy, they’ve naturally created rules down to the nth degree.

Would America’s dairies and supermarkets sell us poisoned egg nog if left to their own devices? Probably not. There are, after all, some pretty powerful incentives not to do that. (Although, frankly, they do skirt the edge of food safety regulations on occasion to maximize profits.) But they might well produce egg nog that’s not recognizable as egg nog if they thought consumers would put up with it.

For that matter, they might well push down the milk fat content, not only as a cost cutting measure (repurposing it for other products) but as a means of marketing to health conscious consumers. After all, traditional egg nog is full of fat, calories, and carbohydrates. Indeed, the Lucerne Holiday Eggnog in my refrigerator has a whopping 180 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrates, and 9 grams of fat per serving!  They also sell a light variety that’s 120 calories, 21 carbs, and 2 grams of fat; the downside is that it’s horrible.

In this case, then, the rationale for micro-regulating these things is much the same as it is for a lot of products: On the one hand, it gives consumers confidence that the product labeled “egg nog” in their stores will bear some reasonable facsimile to real egg nog, containing a certain percentage of egg and milkfat. On the other, it protects dairies from having their egg nog compete against a product called “egg nog” but that’s really an artificially flavored skim milk. Presumably, as has generally been the case with this sort of thing, if there’s actually a strong market for the latter, it’d be available under some other name, say, “Holiday Nog Drink.”

So long as the FDA doesn’t get into the business of telling me which spirit to add to my nog and in what quantity, I’m willing to let this one slide.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Economics and Business, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. mantis says:

    When Kevin Williamson (or some other person enraged about shit that doesn’t matter) can show me that anyone, anywhere has been punished by the FDA in any way for selling egg nog with a less than regulation fat content, I might decide to care about this a tiny bit.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    They just need to do what they do with American cheese: Cheese food, cheese food product, yellow goo vaguely related to American cheese, etc… Or they can add a ‘y’ to make nog an adjective rather than a noun. Noggy.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @mantis: I’m sure this is a case where having a standard makes it easy for industry: they know how low they can go and they go no further.

    @michael reynolds: Exactly. There’s a market for all sorts of imitation products—various juice-like drinks come to mind—that evoke some natural product but are either cheaper, sweeter, lower in calories, or otherwise meets some consumer demand.

  4. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If they skimped on the egg yolk but were up to snuff on the milk fat, they could call it Eggy Nog.

    If they skimped on the milk fat, but used an acceptable level of egg yolks, it would be called Egg Noggy like you said.

    The total crap would be called Eggy Noggy.

    Eggy Noggy Lite is sweetened with antifreeze, but off-brand spiced rum takes the edge off.

  5. Brummagem Joe says:

    A conservative chatterer demonstrates the sense of proportion we’ve come to associate with today’s conservatism……it’s your party JJ after all.

  6. Franklin says:

    So long as the FDA doesn’t get into the business of telling me which spirit to add to my nog and in what quantity, I’m willing to let this one slide.

    Hear hear!

  7. James Joyner says:

    @Brummagem Joe: I understand the impulse on these complaints. But the response is usually kneejerk rather than evincing an understanding of the regulatory process.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    People like Kevin Williamson don’t seem to have any business sense or legal sense whatsoever. Mandating standards on foodstuffs that are relatively undefined helps protect the good producers and keeps the market from running downhill to the lowest common denominator. I suggest that Williamson look at the history of food production in the US as well as the history of counterfeiting of money.

    (I do, however, believe that Hersey’s chocolate and American cheese should both be reclassified as “tile grout.”)

  9. Woody says:

    Honesty in labeling should actually be a principle favored across the political spectrum. Markets function best when there is trust in labeling.

    I get a bit bemused when I read the furious critiques about regulation, whether foodstuffs or corporate reports, because I should be able to trust the claims being made.

    When I purchase chocolate (not an eggnog person), I would prefer actual chocolate in it. When I purchase a share of stock, I would prefer the prospectus and corporate records to be accurate.

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    I do not think for a second…that American children, much less American adults, require a federal intermediary to monitor milk-fat levels.

    Sure. Because if there’s one thing that America children are well known for, it’s their nuanced understanding of food safety and labeling.

  11. Rafer Janders says:


    When I purchase a share of stock, I would prefer the prospectus and corporate records to be accurate.

    Go on back to Russia, you commie.

  12. John Burgess says:

    The original Gifford’s Ice Cream was a Washington, DC-area institution for many years. It was a Washington, DC-area institution because it could not be sold in DC itself due to non-compliance with food regulations.

    The non-compliance came because DC set not only a minimum of butter fat content, but also a maximum and Gifford’s exceeded that maximum.

    The original company was sold in the late 1980s, and again in 2010. While it no longer has retail stores, it appears to be sold in places like Whole Foods.

  13. de stijl says:

    Whenever I see one of these “federal regulations are ruining foodstuff X” I think to myself, “Dude, you really need to read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

    Who knows, they may even learn something about wage slavery, but that’s probably a bridge too far.

  14. rudderpedals says:

    Time to head to The Citadel (no, not that one, this one’s in Idaho). Citadelians won’t put up with any of that pansy food inspection garbage.

  15. Kevin says:

    Providing legal definitions for terms is not what is generally regarded as “regulation”; it simply defines fraud.

  16. Franklin says:

    @John Burgess: Hmm, so according to the suggestions put forth over the eggnog case, they should have simply changed their named to something like Gifford’s Ice Fat.

  17. JKB says:

    If someone is that passionate about their egg nog, they should be making their own. With the fat content they wish but at the risk of alienating their friends and family by serving swill.

  18. Brummagem Joe says:

    @James Joyner:

    But the response is usually kneejerk rather than evincing an understanding of the regulatory process.

    There you’ve said it all……and against this background how is it possible to understand the impulse since it’s entirely irrational and based on the gut rather than reality…….that’s the problem with your party JJ……the gut is seldom a good guide when making decisions

  19. grumpy realist says:

    What these idiots don’t seem to understand is that regulations and definitions also PROTECT the manufacturer. Aside from strict liability issues, showing that you have adhered to regulations regulating the industry blows a hole through all sorts of tort claims that could be brought against you by unhappy clients/customers.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    With the President winning reelection, I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more of these whiny screeds by sad little conservatives like Williamson bitching about every tiny little thing…the poor dears…

  21. Whitfield says:

    Have they ever figured out what that “butter” stuff is that theaters give out to put on popcorn ?

  22. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @de stijl: Yeah, my problem with JJ’s comment was on a similar vein. I can’t see how making egg nog with skim milk, fewer eggs, and thickening it with guar gum to get the consistency right (as some dairies in my home state still do–they just can’t call it “egg nog” any more) got conflated to dairies making egg nog with poison in it.

    False analogy much, James?

  23. James Joyner says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker: Uh, what are you talking about? The “poison” reference was a response to Williamson.

  24. Scott O says:

    They can have my 5% milk fat eggnog when they pry it from my cold dead hands.

  25. MarkedMan says:

    This is so typical of modern argument from Republicans. The FDA regulates what can legally called “Eggnog” the right wing roid-raged mind immediately ramps up into maximum spittle spew mode and searches for an excuse to start screaming “Jack Booted Thugs!” The facts don’t suffice so they make things up and then get worked into a lather over their fantasies.

    Reality: you can sell anything, you just can’t call it eggnog unless it meets certain criteria. And you know what Republicans? If you can’t stand the thought of living in a country where there is a law that you can’t sell, say, hamburger and call it T-Bone steak then I strongly encourage you to find that shining example of a country that meets your standards and then you can hold it up as us as an example and I’m sure well all be convinced.

  26. MarkedMan says:

    Just to clarify, the rant above is targeted at our resident loons, not the original post by James, which I thought was interesting.

  27. John Burgess says:

    @Franklin: If DC would have allowed the sale of “Ice Fat” or something with a less off-putting name, I suspect Gifford’s would have done just that.

  28. OzarkHillBilly says:

    @John Burgess:

    If DC would have allowed the sale of “Ice Fat” or something with a less off-putting name, I suspect Gifford’s would have done just that.

    There are all kinds of reasons why Giffords may have chosen not to enter the DC market, and if they say it was because they couldn’t call their product “Ice Cream” and DC would not let them call it anything else, I have one response:

    “Liars, Liars, Pants on fire.”

    And they would have to prove otherwise.

  29. OzarkHillBilly says:

    Next thing you know the jack booted thugs at the FDA are going to be telling us how much rat poison our venerable corporations can add to our canned goods. It makes me sick what this country is becoming.

  30. The job of bureaucrats is to regulate, and left to themselves they will regulate everything they can — Steven den Beste.

  31. grumpy realist says:

    @Donald Sensing: ah yes, someone else who doesn’t care if there are rat turds in the peanut butter….