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The Government Chooses What We Eat

Food regulations, dietary recommendations, controls on additives, imports and how much food producers get paid, this is all the work of the government. In every country politicians have influence over what people eat. No government can tell every person exactly what to eat, they do not control what you put on you plate, they don't decide what your going to have for lunch or write a shopping list for your visit to the supermarket. But they do have the ability to ban certain foods, prevent imports from particular countries, they can also encourage us to buy and eat things that they have a vested interest in.


smiling doctor smoking
It's the same playbook that the tobacco industry used - photo from clickhole

How Does The Government Control What We Eat?

Every government has a duty of care to its citizens, we need good health, education, jobs and housing and it is the role of the government to make sure that people have fair access to these. Keeping us healthy has many factors to it, including fresh drinking water, healthcare, a pollution free environment and more. Part of this is ensuring people have access to food, food that will promote health, food that is enjoyable and enough food for people to live, not just survive. Governments set regulations for food, such as stating which ingredients must not be in foods, what information food labels show and controls that affect manufacturers. They also educate their citizens about food, spreading awareness of what foods are good for you, which foods should be eaten less often and how to strike a balance. Governments tax foods, adding to the cost of foods and they use this to generate money for the government, but also to encourage people to buy healthier foods. By increasing the tax on unhealthy foods a government will increase its price, making the product less appealing, but also raising more money when people choose to buy them. Another way that a government can control the cost of food is to subsidise the producer, this is where financial support is given to farmers and food producers to encourage them to produce certain foods and also lower the price that the consumer pays.


Who Controls The Government

In a democracy, the citizens of a country will periodically vote for the people that they want to be in control of the country and how it runs, the government. People will choose who they vote for based on the promises or pledges made by the people that decide to run in the vote, the candidates, but very few candidates will make pledges related to food and this can leave them free to set regulations and legislation around food topics as they please. Politicians are helped in their decision making by lobbyists, people employed by businesses and interest groups to promote their agenda. Typically, lobbying is government officials meeting with lobbyists so that they can be given information and arguments in support of their agenda, this often includes the use of money, such as donations to the political party for campaigns that align with the lobbyists interests. Politicians will then set regulation and legislation according to the decision that they have made with the lobbyists help. This is what happened with the tobacco industry, they lobbied governments to downplay the risk of smoking and relax rules on advertising, allowing tobacco companies to promote smoking as fun, cool and good for your health. Doctors would even smoke while seeing patients and promote certain brands for health conditions. It is exactly the same with food.


Lobbying By Animal Agriculture

On 21st September 2021 Sophie Kevany wrote in The Guardian that the livestock industry was lobbying the UN to support more meat production, this behaviour still continues as, just this month, the beef industry tried to use "scientific sounding arguments" to deny the impact of beef production on the environment. This kind of behaviour goes back a long way, in 2014 the meat lobby spent more than $4,000,000 convincing the American government to write dietary guidelines in their favour, promoting meat and to relax regulation that would improve standards for animals and the meat that comes from them and is fed to humans. The influence of the food lobbying groups also have consequences for the food served in hospitals, schools, prisons and universities. Guidelines rarely have anything to do with health, a healthy diet doesn't cost a lot and doesn't make much profit, whereas government subsidies generate a lot of money for meat, dairy and other food industries. Processed foods are cheap to produce, have very little nutritional value and can be sold at higher prices and lobbyists make sure that the tax charged is kept low and honest nutritional information is kept to a minimum. This prevents people from making good choices, having them believe that there is nothing wrong with what they eat and that there is no connection between food and disease.


How To Combat The Lobbyists?

Food lobbyists can be hard to beat due to the amount of resources, money, power and influence they have. However, there are a few things that we can do to fight against them:

  • Build public awareness - educate yourself about food, where it comes from, the affect that is has on our bodies and what foods can make us healthier, then take that information and spread it around, tell everyone that wants to learn.

  • Work with likeminded people - join groups that have the same agenda that you do and work together to get the truth out there.

  • Support political candidates who are aligned with your values - supporting political candidates who prioritise healthier and more sustainable food policies will help to shift the balance of power in the favour of your goals. You don't have to be able to vote to support candidates, volunteering, campaigning and using social media can be enough.

  • Lobby policymakers yourself - you can approach politicians yourself, go to public meetings, email them, write letters or start a petition. These are all ways that we can lobby those in power to make choices and set legislation that will benefit us all and they do work.


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