Plain packaging for food is a ridiculous idea

Nanny-state types are never happy. One illiberal policy just paves the way for the next.

Tim Dawson


Our lords and masters in the Health Blob are at it again. Not content with lecturing us on how big our pizza should be, how many sausages we should eat, or how much sugar we should have in our drinks, the fun-busters in the nanny-state lobby are stepping up their attack.

First they came for my Coca-Cola, and I said nothing. Then they came for my bacon, and I said nothing. Now they’re coming for just about everything that isn’t spinach or ‘meat substitute’.

On 30 September, something called the ‘Food Ethics Council’ put on one of its ‘Food Policy On Trial’ events, at which expert witnesses were grilled by members of said council. The topic of the day was plain packaging, not for cigarettes but for everyday treats like crisps, sweets, biscuits and other ‘junk food’. Its ‘judgement’ has since dropped.

So let’s just work this through. A panel of ‘experts’ and ‘food ethicists’ actually took time out of their day to sit and ponder whether logos on packets of crisps or bags of sweets are causing irreversible damage to the British public.

It’s easy to laugh at nanny-state types – in fact, it’s essential to laugh at them. But their determination to push more and more illiberal policies on us is no laughing matter.

Policies that were once introduced to curb smoking may soon be imposed on products across the board. The narrative is drifting further away from consumer choice and freedom, towards diktats and nanny-state fuss-budgeting.

It is a very slippery slope.

As one more sensible ‘witness’ pointed out at the Food Ethics Council event on plain packaging, by taking away brands you deprive them of their ability to differentiate themselves from their competition in the marketplace. That, in itself, disadvantages the consumer: innovation declines, choice is restricted, prices stagnate.

But most of all, it makes us less free. Adults should not be treated like children. We should all be afforded the respect and dignity of being able to make our own choices. We have agency. We do not need nanny – no matter how well intentioned – to tell us what to put in our bodies or to warn us off certain products.

Plus, the lifestyle police will never be happy. They will continue to push increasingly illiberal policies on us, regardless of their repeated failures. Because this is not about health, it’s about control.

But in the end, individuals should be in control – not faceless ‘food ethicists’ and their apparatchiks. Nanny already has far too much influence on our lives. She should be given no more.

Tim Dawson is a writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter @Tim_R_Dawson.

Picture by: Getty.

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Ven Oods

23rd October 2019 at 2:20 pm

They won’t be happy until all we have is Soylent Green, the ultimate in recycling.

Rob Maloney

23rd October 2019 at 1:50 pm

They tried that in the USA in the 1980s. Dont know if it was done anywhere else.\

Forlorn Dream

23rd October 2019 at 12:22 pm

I wish these fruit bats would go and join their friends over at Extinction Rebellion. It’d be a lot easier for the rest of us if we could keep all the lunatics in one place.

Ed Turnbull

23rd October 2019 at 9:59 am

If this wasn’t the thin end of a very pernicious wedge I’d dismiss it with just three words: first world problems. But this creeping nannying authoritarianism is worrying – it’s the boiling frog approach and, sadly, it works.

Mockery, and plenty of it, is the appropriate prescription for the Food Ethics Council (what’s the betting that this entity is, in fact, largely funded by government to provide ‘evidence’ to support policies that are already planned). Laugh them out of the public discourse. Though I have no doubt that, like all really nasty infections, the FEC will mutate and be back to trouble us again.

Baked Beans

23rd October 2019 at 9:44 am

I have this idea.
If you wish to campaign on a particular issue, i.e. persuade people to adopt a particular lifestyle, green, vegan or some such, you must first register with a duly constituted authority.
If not, the police will visit you and your particulars will be recorded.
Persistent offenders will face a lengthy jail sentence for social harrassment, even when there are no complainents.

Stephen J

23rd October 2019 at 10:00 am

I have a better theory (actually… practise), it is called “citizen initiated binding direct democracy”, which is where a or several concerned citizens that either want something legalised, want something made illegal, or want to see a particular official culled from office, raise an official petition. If it garners enough signatures to trigger a vote, at the next voting day, it is added to the list of initiatives that we are asked to vote for.

Imagine that Extinction Rebellion had a proper channel to vent their spleen, just how much easier it would be to shut them up?

Correspondingly, it is clear that nobody outside of the commons supports the current EU withdrawal bill, we hate it for any number of reasons, from every side of the argument. A citizens vote would then decide and keep parliament honest.

They have been doing tis in Switzerland for a couple of hundred years, and I would bet that without looking it up, nobody reading this would know who the PM/President of that country is. That is because he is in his proper place as a functionary…. behind the scenes.

Stephen J

23rd October 2019 at 8:43 am

My wife is generally speaking very self controlled and good with other folk, she spent forty years as a nurse, very unusually she was massively annoyed by a friend of hers the other day, she was trying to tell her how to nurse an old man that they look after together. She was offended but held her tongue (which would not be me), but when she came home she was visibly irritated and she kept revisiting the moment.

Eventually she asked me to get her some menthol cigarettes, since it might help to calm her down. Unlike myself for whom one cigarette leads to 30 the next day, my wife has been able to smoke one or two whenever she feels like it, for all the time that I have known her, over 40 years.

So off I went to the Co-op. Please can I have a pack of menthol cigarettes I innocently asked? I knew enough to know that there are no longer packs of ten. The poor woman behind the counter said, what kind? I said menthol, she said what make, I said I have no idea, so she just stared and started looking over my shoulder at the next customer.

I asked what the problem was, she told me that when buying cigarettes I had to know what I wanted. I thought and I remembered buying her some menthol Superkings once, so I said that word and she immediately turned round and entered the combination for opening the very dangerous cigarette cupboard.

She then spent at least two minutes rifling through the “plain packages” which are in fact not plain at all. The customers behind were getting fidgety, she pulled out several packs and then put them back and eventually she said, how about Mayfair Green. I said are they menthol, she said, well they are green which is mint colour. So I said go on then.

It is a week later and there are still 18 left in the pack, she just wanted to calm down.

You see, not every consumer is either an addict, or a potential addict and even if they were, what has it got to do with the Co-op, or the government?

Now where is that bottle of lovely sugary Coke?

Captain Scott

23rd October 2019 at 8:40 am

Anyone who has visited a chip shop on a Saturday evening understands that big people in search of calories will always find them. Not only is this policy illiberal, but it will also fail.

The tobacco companies had all the non smokers against them. We all eat food and the usually silent majority may well be in support of the food companies.

Imagine how long your shopping would take if all the packaging is plain.

Jerry Owen

23rd October 2019 at 8:37 am

Plain packaging means that superior brands cannot differentiate from lesser brands, surely the food ‘experts’ ( I happen to be a food expert I have dedicated my whole life to it ) would like the better quality brands to be recognised easily ?
But then again that’s not what the soviet food police are really about is it ?
This goes much deeper as the author rightly points out, there is no end to any of this.

Danny Rees

23rd October 2019 at 5:37 am

Hundreds of kids in this country go hungry due to the Tories’ cuts and austerity

But these middle class foodies fret kids might be exposed to ads for McDonalds.

They truly are scum

Matt Ryan

23rd October 2019 at 8:30 am

Austerity? How so? Government spending has risen under the Tories, just not as quickly as it had before. You do understand that if the government continues to increase spending we will reach a point where everyone will need food banks. There aren’t enough rich people to tax even (if we confiscate all their money) to feed the vexatious demands of the NHS and social security.

Jerry Owen

23rd October 2019 at 8:31 am

‘Hundreds’ ? Then austerity quite frankly doesn’t exist. Kids doing without the latest i phone does free up a fair amount of tuck money it has to be said !

Andrew Best

23rd October 2019 at 4:44 am

Why don’t they just leave us alone?
They have to much time on their hands and just can not help them selves interfere in every aspect of our lives
Stop badgering and lecturing us, just let us live our lives
We have more important things to worry about

Matt Ryan

23rd October 2019 at 8:32 am

Did you get out and campaign against the smoking ban? If not, you be part of the reason they think they can now do this.

Jerry Owen

23rd October 2019 at 12:05 pm

Matt Ryan
I have campaigned against the EU .. doesn’t always work does it ?

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