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A narrow victory over political correctness

By Russell Grenning - posted Wednesday, 20 December 2017


Students of politics and fans of Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister will recall that it was a proposal by the European Union bureaucrats to try and rename the British sausage as the emulsified high-fat offal tube that was seized upon by Minister Hacker in his successful bid to become Prime Minister. Hacker rightly argued that the good old British public would not have a bar of this sort of nonsense.

And, once again, life imitates art or, at least, an enduringly popular situation comedy.

The European Parliament, an institution not usually commented upon for admirable common sense, has recorded a rare victory over political correctness and refused to ban the doner kebab.

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Perhaps surprisingly, the European Commission proposed permitting the use of phosphates in the meat of the tasty snack originally of Turkish origin to reflect current practice and, wholly predictably, the Socialists and Greens in the European Parliament tried to block the Commission despite the fact that phosphates are permitted in certain sausages and are present naturally in protein-rich foods including meats, nuts and dairy products.

To block the Commission's decision would have required 376 votes but the final tally fell three short and was lost 373-272 with 30 abstentions.

The Centre-Right which is the largest group in the Parliament had argued that the blocking of phosphates in kebab meat, judged important for flavour and juiciness, could lead to 200,000 job losses across Europe, more than half of them in Germany.

In a typical yet curious example of their nanny state policy, the Greens MP proposing the ban described the vote as a "sad day for consumer rights which have been trampled on". Very possibly, he was under the impression that consuming doner kebabs in Europe was compulsory as the argument by the Socialists and Greens asserted that the phosphates were a health risk for cardiovascular diseases. While they wouldn't dare admit it, the Greens and their Socialist allies believe that people are far too stupid to decide for themselves what they might eat. Thus, Big Brother has to protect people from themselves as it is not a consumer's right to eat what they like.

However, it runs the risk of being only a short-term victory. In 2018, the European Food Safety Agency plans to re-evaluate the safety of phosphate food additivies and the socialists and greens are demanding that the matter be re-visited unless the Agency can categorically prove that there is not the slightest health risk.

But despite this narrow and possibly temporary victory by common sense, the march of the nanny state internationally shows no sign of giving up.

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For any number of reasons, various countries have banned certain foods that are perfectly legal to consume in other countries. Sometimes food is banned or unbanned not for any health reason but because of politics. The saga about haggis in the USA illustrates the point.

Despite my Scottish heritage via my mother's family, I really cannot argue against the 1971 decision by the US Government to ban haggis because of the disgusting mess of offal it contains. In fact, I rather regard this decision as one of the few that the Nixon Administration took that is praiseworthy and has stood the test of time.

But with half-Scottish Donald Trump in the White House this ban could be removed. President Trump has allowed himself to be photographed grinning like a mad Cheshire cat at a haggis and he has tweeted that the best haggis is that produced by his Trump Turnberry luxury golf resort in Scotland. But Americans as yet have not been able to enjoy this national dish of Scotland on Burns Night on 25 January and Tartan Day on 6 April.

"Consider it done," was The Donald's response to a question from a hotelier who asked him about removing the haggis ban when he came to office. But it seems that the Department of Agriculture which enforces the ban is dragging its feet somewhat and the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue should remember that other Trump Administration officials have been sacked for much less.

Meanwhile back home, the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation issued a communiqué after its meeting last November which, inter alia, supported "public health objectives to reduce overweight and obesity."

The communiqué was one of those statements politicians everywhere issue to try and kid folks that they are doing lots when actually they are doing very little.

It read that the Ministers "agreed to two activities in 2018 – A symposium to promote the Health Star Rating System and a public health policy 'think tank' to develop a shared understanding among the public health community about what can be and cannot be achieved in the food regulation system. Broader stakeholder consultation with consumer and food industry groups will follow prior to progressing any outcomes."

When politicians talk about setting up a 'think tank' to consider an issue and then follow that with broader stakeholder consultation you know that the issue has been put off into the never-never.

An outfit called the Obesity Policy Coalition saw straight through the communiqué. Their Executive Manager Jan Martin thundered that they were "very disappointed" at this outcome adding, "now is not the time to shy away from making important decisions to improve the health of the nation."

Translated into plain English this means that people are not to be trusted to make their own choices about what they eat and drink. In fact, Ms Martin suspected some high-level conspiracy and had the solution to defeating this. She said, "...we need a concerted long-term strategy developed independently away from the influence of Big Food." "Big Food" sounds like a vast secret international cabal intent on destroying civilisation which is exactly the impression Ms Martin wants to suggest.

Presumably, Ms Martin would like her outfit to develop this strategy and impose its views on Australia and New Zealand but what is the likelihood of this happening?

Considering what the Ministerial Forum has decided, fat chance.

At least for now, the nanny state has been held somewhat at bay.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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