Wednesday , April 17 2024

Labour declares war on Tony the Tiger and everyday food essentials

This article was first published here.

The nanny state is back.

Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting has launched an angry attack on food companies over so-called “ultra-processed foods”. Streeting, who is Keir Starmer’s shadow health secretary, has made clear his intention to introduce a raft of new anti-obesity measures in an effort to tackle ultra-processed foods, even though no one seems able to define what they are.

According to campaigners, ultra-processed foods – or UPFs – include crisps, bread, ham, sausages, biscuits, ice cream, soup, and yoghurt. In other words, they are normal, everyday foods we all eat. But Wes Streeting and his colleagues insist these innocuous foods are causing an obesity crisis in Britain and we all need to give them up. Enter the nanny state.

The array of nanny-state policies Labour want to impose are mind-boggling. They include a junk food advertising ban, supposedly designed to protect children from ads for unhealthy foods. Boris Johnson binned that policy in 2022 after he realised it would have next to no impact on kids’ calorie intake. The government’s own research found it would remove just 1.7 calories each day from children’s diets. That’s the equivalent of about half a Smartie.

The other problem with the ‘junk food’ ad ban is it would include lots of foods which are not actually junk food, and which are perfectly healthy as part of a balanced diet. For instance, honey, mustard, yoghurt, and tinned fruit all fall under the official definition of junk food because they are high in fat, sugar, or salt. When we talk about ‘junk food’, we think of fatty burgers and greasy fried chicken – not normal, everyday essentials from the shop. But in Nanny State Britain, common sense goes out the window, and somehow honey, yoghurt, and fruit all become ‘junk food’.

Wes Streeting’s war on the UPFs won’t stop with the junk food ad ban. He also wants to commandeer Frosties mascot Tony the Tiger to flog fruit and veg to kids. The cartoon mascot, invented by Kellogg’s to sell breakfast cereal, is one of the best-known food advertising icons in the world. In Streeting’s eyes, the government should weaponise it.

“Why don’t we take the principle that’s been used to flog junk food, and instead apply it to healthy options for children and young people?” said Streeting at a nanny conference recently. It goes without saying that anyone who thinks the best way to reduce obesity is to have the government use a cartoon mascot to sell vegetables to children should not be taken seriously.

The reason Tony the Tiger is so successful is because kids love to eat Frosties. Labour complains that the cereal contains sugar, but so what? Everyone needs some sugar in their diet, even children. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest using cartoon tigers to get kids to eat more veg and cracking down on breakfast cereals will make children healthier and reduce obesity.

Nanny state policies have never succeeded in reducing obesity and there is no reason to think this time would be any different. This is the opposite of evidence-based policymaking. It’s feel-good nanny-state virtue-signalling above all else.

Streeting seems to believe we are all innocent victims of a stitch-up by the food companies. He suggests food advertising ‘manipulates’ us into eating unhealthily, implying the government should step in to protect us from food ads. “As citizens we are highly manipulated by the marketing that’s thrown at us,” he says. “Certainly in terms of children, parents will experience the ordeal of going around the supermarket and being tugged down [by children] to get that KitKat cereal or chocolate bar.”

This attitude is the crux of the problem. People don’t buy sugary and fatty foods because they have been ‘manipulated’ by advertising. They buy them because they taste nice. This is something Streeting and his ilk will never understand. People are capable of making their own decisions, without the government holding their hand. Perhaps not everyone makes the same choices about their diets and lifestyles as Wes would, but that does not give him the right to make them for us.

Britain does not want a new nanny state. Streeting would do well to focus on reforming the NHS and fixing social care, which are areas where the government can make a real difference. He should steer clear of nanny-state nonsense, else his party will suffer at the ballot box.

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