Should the government micromanage the contents of food? This is the key question when alarmist statements, such as this morning’s ‘Excessive Salt in Bread’ are splashed all over the news.
There are two ways of approaching this issue. Either you leave individuals free to decide for themselves what they buy or don’t buy; or you let the government decide what’s on the shelves. The first you can achieve by information and labelling; the second by state diktat. For cigarettes and alcohol there has been a clear move towards the second option of state coercion.
Let’s take salt. I’m not going to dispute the science on this. Salt is probably not very healthy. Though our defences should start to go up when we hear statements being qualified with the lawyery ‘may’ (damage your health). Or when The Telegraph headline shouts that ‘Some loaves are as salty as seawater’, when in fact, not a single one of the 294 investigated breads was. Less than 1 % of the loaves contained more than half the salt of seawater.
The Consensus Action on Salt and Health was set up by well-connected experts to expound the view that salt is bad, and to encourage us to do something about it. Nothing wrong with people who have a bee in their bonnet about an issue to try to convince the public – we believe in free speech. But the situation changes when their views are imposed upon all of us by law. On their website, they list as their main achievements that they convinced the Department of Health to commit to salt reduction; and they encouraged the Food Standards’ Agency to pick up salt as one of their key campaigns. In other words: the taxpayers are now funding the CASH views on salt.
Today it’s salt; tomorrow it may be sugar, maltesers, coffee, or meat – all of which may be very harmful if taken in excess. A small group may become obsessed about a specific food product, start campaigning, and succeed in turning its views…into laws! Will we soon have to buy a pot of salt from behind the counter, by the gramme? Will we see black labels with two inch letters shouting ‘SALT KILLS’ ?
Choosing for state coercion instead of trusting the free choice of individuals reflects a particular view of humanity: that we, individuals, are not intelligent enough to make our own decisions; and that we need to be protected against ourselves. In this world, the scientists and the politicians become the shepherds, and we the sheep (that is: the lesser beings or animals). Here at the ASI we still believe that people are humans: that is, individuals who know what is in our own interest and who can make their own decisions.
By all means, allow the CASH to convince us that salt is bad and that we should be careful. If they succeed, the manufacturers will have an interest in labelling clearly what’s in the food. Food with less salt will sell better.