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UK’s “junk food” ad ban: The future of state-corporate cooperation

Kit Knightly

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There’s currently an interesting example of the interplay of state and corporate power going on in the UK.

It doesn’t seem like important news alongside Ukraine and Monkeypox and school shootings, but for a while now the UK government has planned to implement new rules banning grocery stores from advertising multi-buy offers on foods they deem “unhealthy”.

The UK government has a track record of brazenly controlling rules regarding food, including the recent “sugar levy”, a tax added to the cost of every soft drink which contains more than 5g of sugar per 100ml.

These new regulations would make it illegal to offer “buy one get one free” or “3-for-2” offers on any food in listed as “high in fat, salt or sugar” (HFSS) according to the government’s 2007 “nutritional profiling model”. It also bans “unlimited refill” offers on soft drinks at restaurants and the advertising of junk food on the internet and before 9pm on television.

The “consultation” on this goes back to at least 2019, and the ban was set to be in place by October of this year.

Now, my objection to this is fairly simple: It’s nobody’s business what a private citizen decides to buy, or how much they eat of what. The idea that the state could – or should – dictate what food people can eat “for the greater good” is an incredibly slippery slope.

Is a lot of processed junk food basically poison?

Yes.

Do the oligarchs and bureaucrats therefore have the right to try and stop people from eating it?

Absolutely not.

They promote all these policies as being in the public interest, but they’re not. In fact, they are often directly harming the public both physically and financially.

Take the “Sugar Tax” I mentioned above. While allegedly “forcing” soft drinks manufacturers to reformulate in the name of “tackling childhood obesity”, what it actually did was mandate companies to either increase their prices or replace sugar with cheaper (and more toxic) artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.

Essentially, you’re now paying more for the same product, and maybe getting a nice cancer-inducing boost of chemical sweeteners in the bargain.

This will have no impact at all on obesity (except it might make it worse), but it WILL increase both corporate and government revenues behind a veneer of “acting in the public interest”.

This latest move in the “war on obesity” is just more of the same. A pretence at caring for ordinary people covering a government-mandated price increase.

But it’s also even sneakier than that.

Though widely described as being a ban on “junkfood” multi-buys, the HFSS definition is about a lot more than chocolate bars and coca-cola.

In fact if you take a look you will see that included in this ‘junk food’ list are breakfast cereals, ready meals, pizza, fish fingers (and other breaded or battered food), chips (french fries) and other potato products.

Like it or not, these are staple foods for a lot of households, especially low income families, so the special offers ban could  – big surprise – have a big impact on the food budget of the most vulnerable people right across the country.

But here’s where it gets really sneaky.

A few weeks ago Boris Johnson, that well-known warm-hearted philanthropist, announced they would be postponing the HFSS multibuy ban “due to the cost of living crisis”.

In the press release announcing the postponement, Public Health Minister Maggie Throup said:

We’re committed to doing everything we can to help people live healthier lives. Pausing restrictions on deals like buy one get one free will allow us to understand its impact on consumers in light of an unprecedented global economic situation.

Roughly translated: With Covid rules crippling the economy and energy bills spiking, the government claim that deliberately hiking the cost of an average weekly shop might cause some civil disobedience.

…and of course that’s totally true.

So, the rules were officially shelved until at least October 2023.

A rare triumph for the 99% you might think?

But no, the mainstream opinion-makers didn’t see it that way at all.

In fact polemicists from both “right” and “left”  united in condemnation of the move, and attacked Johnson for putting short term political gains ahead of the “welfare” of the country, .

And, right on cue those big-hearted supra-national corporate monoliths rose to the occasion to save the day!

That’s right, the ban on buy-on-get-one-free “junk food” is still going to be enforced… by the supermarkets themselves.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco have already announced they plan to “introduce the HFSS ban as planned” in October on their own initiative. More will likely follow suit.

It will, of course, be sold as these giant chains “having a conscience” and “defying Boris”, but we don’t need to be super-cynical to see what is actually at play here.

Boris doesn’t care how much low income people have to pay for their fish fingers. The polemicists don’t care about public health.

It’s just simple use of reverse psychology.

If you want to sell some deeply unpopular legislation you get an even more unpopular public figure to oppose it.

The rest of the scam runs itself. And we end up with people “demanding” to be allowed to make billionaires even richer just because Boris said it was a bad idea.

As with most corporate “regulation”, it’s actually just a contrived win-win.

The government gets to write the legislation they want in place, but never has to actually take responsibility for it – because they’re not actually enforcing it.

While the big grocery chains get instant good-boy points in the “liberal” press for being socially conscious, despite the fact they are increasing the price of food during a recession.

All the while serving the endgame of furthering the manufactured food crisis, increasing the pressure on the poorest people in the country and perhaps worst of all simply normalising a huge amount of government control.

Don’t forget, “reducing sugar consumption to tackle obesity” is just the stalking horse. The real target, down the line, will be “reducing meat consumption to tackle climate change”.

Meat definitely isn’t poison, but that won’t matter, because they’ll pay off some “experts” to say it is and even if it’s not, why are you so concerned for your personal health when we need to preserve the planet for everyone? Don’t be selfish, follow the science, pay the meat tax.

Lab grown meat will be exempt from the tax, of course (and guess who owns shares of that).

Once the precedent is set that it’s OK to try and control what people are allowed to eat, they will just keep going.

Next they’ll add a “carbon tax” to the price of meat, or we’ll be sold the necessity of “reducing grain production to save wildlife habitats.”

And the big industrial producers will “reluctantly” go along with the rules that “force” them to charge more for the same product, whilst the living standards of the 99% slip further and further back into universal poverty.

That’s State-Corporate partnership, and it’s just the way the world works now.

Less food and managed deprivation is the endgame.