Food in the UK is under threat. It’s not the first time bad food laws have come to the island—it was once mandated that all bananas sold in the EU had to be free of “abnormal curvature.” Brexit would solve a problem like that, but the latest ridicule-worthy proposal comes from Britain itself.
Last week, officials from Public Health England (PHE) proposed a sweeping measure to limit the number of calories that supermarkets, restaurants, and other businesses are allowed to have in their ready-to-eat meals. While the details are still being fleshed out, one specific proposal is a calorie limit of 928 for a pizza. In other words, most pizzas in the UK would have to shrink or lose their toppings in order to comply with this law. (How they arrived to the precise number of 928 is unclear.)
Of course, the catch is that British consumers wouldn’t be limited to 928 calories a meal. It’s a trivial matter to order a side dish such as garlic bread or a salad with extra dressing—or even another pizza. This reminds us of how soda taxes, pushed in the US by public health ninnies, don’t actually reduce anyone’s weight because people can switch to drinking equally caloric fruit juice or sports drinks.
And then there are questions about enforcement. If Neville the pizza maker adds an extra slice of pepperoni by accident and the pizza clocks in a 940 calories, will he be fined? Sued? Imprisoned?
The measure is disingenuously being sold under the auspices of fighting childhood obesity—aren’t they all?—but it would apply to foods adults choose to eat, too.
PHE’s Dr. Tedstone stated, “We know that just having healthy options on the menu won’t change the nation’s habits – we need the default option to have fewer calories.” This sounds like a full-on nanny state nightmare. The British government’s position seems to be: You can’t possibly be trusted to make smart and healthy choices so we will dictate what you can purchase.
Fighting obesity and advocating for healthier children is worthy of celebration, but that should involve personal responsibility, as well as proper education and good parenting. The “public health” community won’t be satisfied until all people are equipped with calorie-tracking monitors.
The UK would do better to foster freedom on its island—that means putting limits on regulatory overreach, not sandwiches.