Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Just cut out those lunches

Sometimes one reads serious press releases from the European Commission and wonders whether to laugh or cry. Take this one: on May 22 David Byrne, the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner (a wonderfully Orwellian title) announced “That it was time to take on obesity.”

He was commenting on the fact that the World Health Organization and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization met in Geneva to debate a global strategy, if you please, on obesity. It is, apparently, the latest disease to take the world by storm. No doubt the Geneva conference was marked by a number of lunches, dinners and receptions at which a great deal of food and drink was consumed at the taxpayers’ expense.

The EU is joining in this extremely important endeavour. It is providing its own programme that will also deal with the problem of lunches and dinners for officials. Its aims are:

1. To support the identification and development of effective public health strategies;
2. To provide EU-wide data and analysis;
3. To ensure EU labelling law plays a positive role.

Pompously, the press release adds:

“Most in the public health community share a common analysis of the root cause of the epidemic: a population eating an increasingly high-energy diet but living a sedentary, low energy, lifestyle.” In other words, as the Daily Telegraph put it long ago: “Move more and eat less.”

The trouble is that this advice could be given extremely usefully to all Eurocrats, Commissioners, former Commissioners and MEPs. One and all, they are extremely large, even sometimes obese and all because they hop in and out of cars and taxis and eat huge amounts of rich food. As one member of the House of Lords once put it: “You can always tell the former Commissioners because they occupy two seats on the aeroplane.” They are not the people to lecture the rest of us on obesity but, of course, they are the people to use our money to set up more organizations, more studies, analyses, regulations, anything and everything to save us from our own exertions.

It is worth noting that obesity is not exactly a problem in most of the world. The average North Korean does not suffer from it. Most Africans do not know the meaning of the word. Chinese inmates of slave labour camps are unlikely to hold weekly meetings to discuss the problems of obesity. Plenty of people in other parts of the world, such as the former Soviet republics, while not actually starving, find it hard to understand how a plentiful and varied diet could be a problem. “We should have problems like that.” – they sigh.

Perhaps the EU Commissioners (and WHO and FAO) should spend a little time looking at what causes those more serious food problems. Could it be their economic policies, which skew trade between the EU and the Third World? Could it be the corrupt and corrupting system of aid that keeps certain countries in permanent poverty? Could it be, finally, the support given to appalling dictators, who keep the populations of potentially affluent countries in dire poverty to protect their own power? Answers on a postcard, please.

Meanwhile, the lunches, dinners and receptions will go on.

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