The tail wagging the hot dog

The notion that the hot dog should be redesigned inspires a variation on the mad-scientist-movie line: "Man was not meant to tamper in God's domain." Or, in this case, Oscar Mayer's. Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics is proposing that the wiener (and other products frequently consumed by children) be reshaped as a way of preventing toddlers from choking.

The proposal doesn't sit well with an interest group we didn't even know existed, the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council. But you don't have to be a lobbyist to rebel at this well-intentioned exercise in paternalism.

We accept the academy's assertion that children under the age of 3 shouldn't be given whole hot dogs. We have no problem with its other suggestion: that hot dog and other packages should come with conspicuous warning labels about the danger of choking. But not everything can be made safe for consumption by the youngest common denominator. Even the academy acknowledges the fact that (short of genetic engineering) it would be impossible to reconfigure some of the other foods it cites as choking hazards, such as popcorn, peanuts and grapes. As with hot dogs, the best remedy may be parental vigilance.

It's hard to believe that the academy seriously proposed a hot dog makeover. Perhaps the doctors knew that the idea, even as it provoked ridicule, would increase public and parental awareness of the dangers of giving hot dogs to toddlers. But if they're serious, they'll find that taking on this tubular treat is no picnic.

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