TCS Daily


French People Do Get Fat

By Sylvain Charat - April 21, 2005 12:00 AM

"Acting against the obesity epidemic." This is the dubious title of a bill presented by French socialist MPs to the French National Assembly under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Guen.

Two nonsensical notions can be detected immediately, without even reading a single line of the bill. First, the legislation is purportedly aimed at stopping a disease, but that is not in fact the law's goal. Are people really so idiotic as to need a law to tell them how to eat or drink or walk? The State, as a lawmaker, should keep the law to the strict area of common self-defense and provide a framework for securing individual freedom.

Second, there is the expression "obesity epidemic". This is ridiculous. Obesity is not and cannot be an epidemic; where is the virus, the contagious agent? This expression has no medical meaning, but only serves to fire up a collectivist ideology and an economic logic.

Nevertheless there are true reasons to be worried about public health. In France, figures show that 18 percent of French children are overweight and one out of ten is obese before the age of 10. Out of a total population of 60 million, if 13 million French people are overweight, 5.4 million are actually obese, a number that is supposed to double 20 years from now. According to the most recent data, one French person out of two is obese by the age of 45. Yes, something needs to be done, but not with the law.

There's something else at work here. Health is only a pretense for launching an attack on a market based economy. This bill establishes a plan which would affect the whole food production system from the conception of the product to its distribution, through marketing, advertisement and promotion. Obviously, if there is an epidemic, socialist MPs have found the virus: the free market. Consequently they must protect the victims: consumers. And they will be protected by a law that will magically give them suitable habits for getting slim.

In France, the free market has become the favorite scapegoat for all evils. Le Guen, the proud author of this bill, stated he had the "scruples to ask to everyone to make efforts for the Social Security [which reimburses all individual health expenditures], when the food industry is selling without scruples products which are known to be noxious over the long run". The public health law passed in 2004 provides that companies running food advertisements must give "specific information of a sanitary nature" or pay a tax as high as 1.5 percent of their communication budget to the National Institute of Health Prevention and Education. If these rules concerning information on ads are not respected, article 9 of the present bill provides that companies will be taxed at 5 percent of their communication budget.

But that is not all. Socialists point out that even cars may have a real responsibility for this obesity epidemic. They declaring in the bill's introduction that "the use of individual cars is a problem not only for environment", but also for obesity. This is an extra reason to promote collective public transportation as obviously much safer for your weight than your capitalist automobile.

So, to be clear, everything that looks "free market" or "individual" is not to be trusted...and in fact will make you fat! That is why the bill would create the High Committee on the Fight against Obesity, which will provide a code of good conduct for food companies. The bill wants also 30 compulsory minutes of physical exercise for school kids, a free water fountain in each school, a yearly weight follow up for each child, etc. - "all that is necessary to create new people for a better mankind".

Frankly, there is almost no chance this bill will pass, at least in the present legislature since the Right has the majority. But its very existence is a threat to individual freedom, since if the Left were to win the next presidential and legislative elections in 2007, this bill might very well be a new law. Better watch out.

In France, everything needs its law. This is a usual political attitude in a collectivist society: lawmakers consider citizens to be stupid and feel their mission is to tell them how to be virtuous. Thus the law does everything and replaces the will and initiative of citizens. No longer do they have to consult, compare or foresee, intelligence is of no use and becomes useless. If the free market is the scope goat, citizens may very well be goats.

Sylvain Charat is director of policy studies in the French thin tank Eurolibnetwork.

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