One of the secrets of the success of the nanny state campaign over the years has been the refusal of its advocates to describe their final destination. Whether it is a tax on soft drinks, minimum pricing for alcohol or plain packaging for tobacco, the erosion of liberty has always been incremental. Each policy is lobbied for on it own terms and by the time the ink is dry on the new legislation, the activists have moved on to the ‘next logical step’.
Ask them what the logical conclusion is and they become unusually quiet. The obvious answer seems to be total prohibition of whichever product displeases them, but since stating this openly would alarm sensible moderates they stick to their policy of death by a thousand cuts.
Those who yearn for a little more candour should welcome today’s report from the EAT-Lancet Commission which makes no secret of its intention to force a near-vegan diet on the world’s population through the use of taxes, bans and regulation. Its new dietary guidelines, supposedly designed to optimise health and sustainability, are radical to say the least. Under their plan, you would be limited to just seven grams of pork a day – about a tenth of a sausage. The beef allocation is the same. Your chicken ration is somewhat more generous at 29 grams, but it still only amounts to one and a half nuggets. You can have fish, but only a quarter of a fillet a day, and you would be limited to 50 grams of potatoes, the equivalent of a quarter of a baked spud. Egg consumption is capped at one and half per week, so half a dozen should last you a month.
To comply with these extraordinary demands, the UK would all have to cut meat consumption by 80 per cent and massively increase its consumption of beans, lentils, soy and nuts. This is not going to happen voluntarily and the committee knows it. It calls on politicians to do more ‘choice editing’ (ie. banning things).
The authors want more taxes on food, more advertising restrictions and the ‘banning and pariah status of key products’ (which ‘key products’? Fizzy drinks? Chips?). They want local authorities to ban new takeaway food outlets ‘in low-income areas’ (but apparently not in high income areas) even though they admit that the evidence that ‘zoning regulations could increase healthy food consumption or reduce BMI [body mass index] is scarce’ (indeed it is).
They state their preferred option bluntly: ‘restrict choice’ or, better still, ‘eliminate choice’. In wealthy countries such as Britain, ‘a priority is to offer less than what is currently offered by reducing portions, choice, and packaging’. They even propose ‘rationing on a population scale’.
None of this will happen overnight. ‘Gaining consensus on these targets is a first step in urging actors to agree on a common agenda,’ they write. ‘Targets will then be refined and engaged with at all policy levels.’ Perhaps there is an element of trying to shift the Overton Window with some of the more extreme demands, but a number of the report’s policy recommendations have already been adopted by the British government. We have a sugar tax. A pudding tax was recently mooted, and there has been talk of a meat tax in recent months. Sadiq Khan wants London to join the many towns in Britain that have banned new takeaway outlets. Public Health England is due to publish its long list of calorie caps in the spring and the government’s childhood obesity strategy gave Jamie Oliver everything he asked for.
But even by the standards of Britain’s super-nanny state, the EAT-Lancet report represents a draconian step change. To those who ask ‘where will it end?’, I say just read the document. A militant coalition of vegetarians, environmental activists and health campaigners have put their cards on the table and this time you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned.