Several column inches were devoted by The Times of January 17 to a madcap scheme, allegedly under serious consideration by the Conservatives, to set quotas for production of junk food and alcoholic drinks in order to reduce obesity and alcoholism.
Such a concept is risible and outrageous in equal measure. For those who oppose nanny states, this is the nanny of them all.
If junk foods have become such a significant threat to the health of the nation, the best way to address this is by means of the educational and health systems. Consumers of unhealthy diets need the tools for action while retaining the right to freedom of choice in the food they buy.
The Conservative scheme would also provide a golden opportunity for importers who wouldn't be subject to this quota system since it would contravene World Trade Organisation rules. In addition, it would have the potential to damage the economy by interfering with the goals of private business to increase profits through growth of the market in which they operate.
The government and the opposition are tinkering at the edges of the problem by attacking the wrong targets.
The underlying implication behind this scheme and that of the government is that consumers are ill-informed, or cannot read or cannot do the basic arithmetic necessary to use Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) labelling. This is an indictment of the education system rather than evil intentions on the part of the food industry.
The latter already has an incentive to produce lower fat, salt and sugar options in the growing demand from consumers who are becoming more aware of the problem. The government should allow industry time to respond in an organic way rather than interfere with market forces and risk putting even more pressure on funds available for health and education.
Returning to the quota idea, would cheese be regarded as junk food? If so, it might be more profitable for a cheese producer to sell its fat quota, as envisaged by the Tory proposal, to a chocolate manufacturer, say. Thus the former would derive income from not producing cheese, which would be more profitable.