Are mandatory regulatory initiatives good for us or do mandatory dictates erode personal civic responsibility…ihtacontrol
As global society seems to be returning to some degree of pre COVID-19 normality, though slightly tweaked, one of the popular topics much debated relates to enquiry on the imposition of state intervention and individual freedoms. Being cautious on the possibility of a 2nd wave of infections, most of us have experienced some continued curtailment on our movements and social interactions. Indeed readers will be familiar with stealthier instances over the years where there has been a pull between mandatory dictates, personal civic responsibility and freedom of consumer choice.
Readers will have had first-hand experience of the consequences of disproportionate regulatory frameworks that have seen 1000s of herbal medicines disappear from the shelves, have seen a curtailment of products taken off the shelves in Ireland that remain OTC across the Irish Sea and in many European neighbouring countries. Another example is Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 on Nutrition & Health Claims that makes it difficult for suppliers of health products to inform their customers on the benefits of available products.
Here in Ireland, in its Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016-2025 the Government committed to the development and implementation of legislation on calorie posting as one of a series of measures aimed at addressing rates of overweight and obesity across the population. In early January 2020, the Dept. of Health opened a consultation with Food Businesses on the Introduction of Mandatory Calorie Posting on Menus which closed February 14th 2020. The primary purpose of the proposal is to ensure that calorie information is available at the point of choice for the consumer. Its objective is to empower customers to make informed choices about the food they consume and provide the information they need to manage their calorie intake. The results of this consultation will assist in the development of the draft legislation.
Not unexpectedly, the Restaurants Association is not in favour and advocates for Education not Legislation – “we want to see Home Economics or Food Science equivalent mandatory in Second Level and need more comprehensive education on the Primary education syllabus.
Ireland was not alone in such initiatives, as far back as 2009 the UK Food Standards Agency encouraged well known food chains to start displaying the calorie content of all food, health campaigners backed the idea, saying it was a crucial step in helping combat the UK obesity crisis however it seemed the hospitality industry were not on board. Then in September 2018, the Dept. of Health & Social Care ran a public consultation titled “Calorie labelling for food and drink served outside of the home”. Feedback on the UK consultation has to date not been published.
In 2018 the US federal government finalised the implementation of mandatory labelling of calorie content on all menu items across major chain restaurants (20 +) nationally. Accompanying media headlines stated, national calorie menu labelling law will add years of healthy living and save billions. However it also seems that in the US, providing calorie information on menus has proved controversial, with constant delays and “push back” from food industry groups fearing the cost of implementing the laws. In effect the potential health and economic impacts of this policy remain unclear.
It is not an easy task to find the correct measure on regulatory dictates to care take a nation’s health and at the same time allow for personal civic responsibility. What is clear is that there is a continuing growth of obesity statistics and there is no disputing the evidence that obesity increases the risk of many chronic and lethal diseases including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, a leading cause of premature death globally.
Experience seems to suggest that regulatory dictates sit easier with the public when they evolve from an appropriate framework that is transparent, displays an identifiable and understandable risk to benefit ratio and has involved meaningful consultation with responsible stakeholders. Unfortunately regarding our own industry sector, too often innovation has been stymied by inappropriate and disproportionate regulatory mandates, learning from how the COVID-19 dictates worked, going forward let’s be optimistic that consultative measures will accompany regulatory mandates relating to our own industry.
IRISH HEALTH TRADE ASSOCIATION
Working together towards a healthier Ireland