Abolish the food industry?

From Raj Patel, in The Atlantic:

If public health is a legitimate reason to curb corporations' advertising to kids, why limit bans to cigarettes, booze, and toys in happy meals, and not include, say, all unhealthy food?

“In the fall of 2008, San Francisco polished its progressive credentials by banning something. From October 1, 2008, the sale of cigarettes was prohibited in certain places. You could still buy them in convenience stores, of course, and bodegas, gas stations, and even the occasional bar. But the city thought that perhaps it was a bad idea to allow them to be sold in pharmacies. As the city attorney, Dennis Herrera, put it: “Consumers — and especially young people — should reasonably expect pharmacies to serve their health needs, not to enable our leading cause of preventable death.”

Pharmacy and tobacco executives were apoplectic. The Walgreens pharmacy chain argued that they needed to be allowed to sell cigarettes so that they might counsel people on how to quit. The tobacco industry was upset too. From the hallowed garden of constitutional law, it argued that the ban was an infringement of its First Amendment rights to free speech. Big Smoke argued that it was being muzzled by an over-reaching government marching down the road to tyranny. The judge who heard the case took a dim view of this logic, pointing out that while advertising is a form of free speech, “selling cigarettes isn’t.” The ban continues.

The cigarette industry survives, as does its advertising. Cigarette companies’ rights to free speech have, however, been curtailed on grounds of public health, and for the health of children above all. Joe Camel isn’t familiar to children today, as he was in the 1970s, because most people agree that it’s probably a bad idea to have a hip smoking cartoon character to which kids aspire, even if the company behind it swears blind it was just going after the pro-dromedary slice of the adult market.

Alcohol is similarly circumscribed, again with an eye to public health and, again, with a particular concern for young people. But if public health is a legitimate reason to curb corporations’ advertising to kids, why limit bans to cigarettes and booze, and not include, say, unhealthy food?

A paper in the latest issue of Nature by Robert Lustig, Laura Schmidt, and Claire Brindis fuels the debate, pointing to the long-term similarities of sugar and alcohol consumption….”

Read the whole story in The Atlantic.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Abolish the food industry?

  1. Bill Anderson

    It all comes down to corporate personhood. When corporations are considered “people” with rights, then we erode the rights of real people.

    The raw milk movement needs to grapple with this issue too. Most cow-shares are organized as corporations of one form or another, which is their biggest folly — its puts them within the realm of commerce and thus subject to regulations affecting businesses that sell to the public.

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with selling raw milk to the public, we just need to work to change the laws on this front, and to constructively address the public health concerns that it raises.

  2. thebovine

    The author of this article was interviewed on CBC radio last week. So his ideas are getting some attention.

    Don’t know how serious a solution this could be as long as we’ve got ex-Monsanto execs running the show in America’s food safety branches of government.

    Still it’s valuable for calling into question the status quo and the widespread acceptance of these so called “foods”.

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