I liked this purely as a piece of English. It’s about Public Health England’s plans to ruin food by reformulating it.
…At the heart of the reformulation delusion is an ignorance of market forces, a deep suspicion of industry and a naive faith in the power of bureaucracy to remedy supposed market failures. One of David Cameron’s greatest mistakes as prime minister was creating Public Health England in 2013. This quango, which relieves the taxpayer of over £4 billion a year, was always going to attract ideologues and activists from the clown show that is ‘public health’academia. These people are relatively harmless when confined to their echo-chamber conferences and rinky-dink journals, but are a menace when allowed off the leash. At Public Health England, they have real power and influence. It is telling that the only ‘stakeholders’ from civil society involved in the reformulation work are Action on Sugar and the Obesity Health Alliance, two mouthpieces of the fanatical Graham MacGregor, who flood the media with hysterical claims about the ‘shocking’ levels of various ingredients in normal, everyday food.
As Josie Appleton showed in her superb report for the IEA last week, these activist groups are the outriders of reformulation, working hand in glove with PHE to soften the public up for further interventions in the food supply. The bone-headed approach of these extremist pressure groups has been bought wholesale by the apparatchiks at PHE. They allow no room for personal autonomy. As they see it, the public will buy whatever products the food industry throws at them. For some mysterious reason, the industry has traditionally chosen to put lots of unnecessary fat, sugar, salt and, er, calories in these products. Therefore, all the government needs to do is to tell them to use saccharine and brown rice instead and the British public will lose weight without even noticing.
It is the kind of idea you might hear from someone who owns a collection of bongs, but thanks to Public Health England it is official government policy. As if to mask the essential stupidity of the scheme, PHE has introduced layers of bureaucracy and issued hundreds of pages of technical notes to give it the veneer of science. Once the calorie programme is fully underway, there will be no fewer than 299 different targets, covering most food products sold in shops and supermarkets as well as the dishes served in pubs, cafés and restaurants.
I didn’t know David Cameron created PHE, but I’m not really surprised. After all he re-branded the Conservative party as a sort of new Green party. He followed all the trends. No doubt PHE and food reformulation was another bandwagon he climbed aboard, to show how fashionably “With It” he was.
But I think that today’s rising populism is a reaction to growing government interference in everybody’s lives. And PHE is exactly the sort of thing that gets up everybody’s nose.
Not everybody smokes cigarettes, but absolutely everybody eats food, and absolutely everybody will have their own favourite brands of food, and so absolutely everybody will be ticked off when PHE forces them to be reformulated into bland sameness, and absolutely everybody will want to see an end to this sort of unnecessary interference. And that’s the driving force behind populism. So PHE is going to become (if it isn’t already) one of the principal drivers behind the growing get-off-our-backs populism of the day. Because everybody is getting thoroughly sick of all these bullying bastards everywhere telling everybody what they should eat and drink and believe and think.
PHE is its own worst enemy, and will largely be the cause of its own eventual destruction. For if it did not exist prior to 2013, it was because there was never any need for it back then, and there still is absolutely no need for it now.