Christopher Snowdon

Boris’s junk food crusade is absurd

(Photo from Twitter: @BorisJohnson)

The government is to ban ‘junk food’ adverts before the 9 p.m. watershed as well as restricting online food ads. Boris Johnson seems to have realised that he is overweight and so now we must all be subjected to an ever-growing assortment of gastronomic restrictions. 

The first of many problems, however, is that civil servants don’t actually have a definition for ‘junk food’. The category used instead is ‘high in fat, sugar and salt’ (HFSS), a designation that is ridiculously broad. So now certain foods that would normally fall into the category are exempt. Honey, olive oil, avocados and Marmite are among those reportedly saved. If this is a representative sample, it seems that fatty and sugary foods will be given the green light so long as the middle classes like them.

It seems that fatty and sugary foods will be given the green light so long as the middle classes like them

Other middle-class sensibilities have also been respected. Most of us don’t much care about the rights of big corporations but sympathise with local businesses, such as bakeries and cafes, which would be prevented from advertising their wares online ever again. The government has finally recognised this and now intends to exempt companies with fewer than 250 employees from the ad ban. 

Fundamentally, though, the system used to categorise a food product as HFSS is fussy, puritanical and creates absurdities such as classifying olive oil and mustard as ‘junk food’ — but it is at least based on something measurable, i.e. the amount of fat, sugar or salt in a product. Without it, you are left with bureaucrats arbitrarily deciding that cereal bars are ‘unhealthy’ but jam is fine based on nothing but snobbery and gut instinct.

Companies with fewer than 250 employees do not generally advertise on TV, so the exemption for small businesses will be of no benefit to broadcasters.

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