Drinking water does not ease dehydration, the European Union has ruled – and anyone who disagrees faces two years in prison.
The decision – after three years of discussions – results from an attempt by two German academics to test EU advertising rules which set down when companies can claim their products reduce the risk of disease. The academics asked for a ruling on a convoluted statement which, in short, claimed that water could reduce dehydration.
Dehydration is defined as a shortage of water in the body – but the European Food Standards Authority decided the statement could not be allowed.
The ruling, announced after a conference of 21 EU-appointed scientists in Parma and which means that bottled water companies cannot claim their product stops people’s bodies drying out, was given final approval this week by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Yesterday, Tory MEP Roger Helmer said: ‘This is stupidity writ large. The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are worrying about the obvious qualities of water. If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project, then this is it.’
Under British law, advertisers who make health claims that breach EU law can be prosecuted and face two years in jail.
The decision was being hailed as the daftest Brussels edict since the EU sent down laws on how bendy bananas should be. UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall said: ‘I had to read this four or five times before I believed it. ‘It is a perfect example of what Brussels does best. Spend three years, with 20 separate pieces of correspondence before summoning 21 professors to Parma, where they decide with great solemnity that drinking water cannot be sold as a way to combat dehydration.’
He added: ‘Then they make this judgment law and make it clear that if anybody dares sell water claiming that it is effective against dehydration they could get into serious legal bother. ‘This makes the bendy banana law look positively sane.’
This is stupidity writ large. The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are worrying about the obvious qualities of water. If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project, then this is it. - TORY MEP ROGER HELMER
However the Parma gathering ruled: ‘The panel considers that the proposed claim does not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim.’ It declared that shortage of water in the body was just a symptom of dehydration. [Then what is it a symptom of?]
Dr Andreas Hahn and Dr Moritz Hagenmeyer of the Institute for Food Science and Human Nutrition at Hanover Leibniz University said they were unhappy but not surprised. ‘We fear there is something wrong in the state of Europe,’ Professor Hahn said.
He added that the academics had been trying to test the working of EU food and advertising rules. ‘It was free of charge, there was no apparent red tape attached and it gave food business operators, whom we regularly advise, a chance to advertise their products in a new way,’ he added. ‘We thought we should give it a try and see what would happen.
‘But over almost four years, it became clear that the procedure was anything but straightforward. Any company depending on the claim would long have gone out of business.
What is our reaction to the outcome? Let us put it this way: We are neither surprised nor delighted.’ He said: ‘The European Commission is wrong; it should have authorised the claim. That should be more than clear to anyone who has consumed water in the past, and who has not?’
Nanny state disapproval: Manipulating your diet through taxation
Twenty-six states intrude on our nutritional decisions by taxing soda at a higher rate than other groceries, and seventeen states do the same for candy. As if that were not bad enough in “the land of the free,” legislators continue to push for new and heftier taxes in this realm, with new soda taxes pending in fourteen states.
A new report from the Tax Foundation, “Overreaching on Obesity,” (PDF) has compiled data on the status and consequences of state-led taxes on sweets. In doing so, it lays waste to both the moral and economic arguments of these overbearing sin taxes.
Tax proponents claim to be addressing an epidemic of obesity, which increased from 13 percent to 34 percent of the population between 1962 and 2008. But that argument falls flat, because the purported epidemic is nothing of the sort.
As highlighted in the comedic documentary Fat Head (2009) over the last five decades, the U.S. population has aged markedly — with the median age going from 29.5 years in 1960 to 37.2 years in 2010 — and as people age, they tend to gain weight.
An older population, while it may tend to be heavier, does not translate into a less healthy one. In fact, overweight people, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Body Mass Index classifications, actually have longer lifespans than those classified as normal.
The BMI formula for obesity, which considers only height and weight rather than body-fat percentage, is also embarrassingly inaccurate. As Scott Drenkard of the Tax Foundation notes, the CDC’s BMI classification describes athletes such as Tom Brady as overweight, and actors such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as obese.
In Fat Politics, Eric Oliver of the University of Chicago notes that the CDC is eager for funding, and weight-loss industry leaders, seeking grants and customers, also have a perverse incentive to promote a fallacious trend of epidemic proportions.
Furthermore, impositions that seek to change people’s diets imply ignorance on the part of consumers and exploitation by retailers.
But even if we accept the obesity claims at face value for the sake of argument, an attack on obesity is not a legitimate role of government — at least if we are to retain any respect for individual liberty.
Sin-tax proponents seek to justify their demands with the allegation that obese people swell our hospitals and cause Medicaid and Medicare costs to skyrocket. Shouldn’t they be made to pay for the burden they generate? There are so many problems with this frequently repeated logic that one hardly knows where to start. First, obese or overweight people do not generate medical costs for others. Elected officials impose socialized medicine on a population, and that collectivizes costs and places a moral hazard on unhealthy behavior. One wrong, the imposition of socialized medicine, does not justify another wrong, further violations of our liberty.
Then, when elected officials do intervene with taxes to recoup the costs of socialized medicine, they do so haphazardly and with counterproductive results. (The latest health-care reform also impedes the ability of insurers to use price differentiation.)
Although such taxes may generate revenue, they are fraught with definitional problems. In Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas, for example, sweetened beverages with anything less than 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice are subject to the soda tax. On the other hand, Colorado and New Jersey do not classify chocolate bars as candy if they contain flour, so Kit Kat and Twix are exempt.
Regardless of definition, though, experience suggests that people either continue to buy as before or substitute with alternatives that may be even more calorie dense. All the while, the taxes disproportionately burden the poor, because they spend a greater proportion of their income on groceries. These taxes also punish healthy people who happen to consume candy or soda in small amounts.
Insofar as some people may suffer from poor health, it is a matter of personal responsibility. And if you don’t like your tax money going to people whom you believe have been irresponsible, oppose the spending itself; don’t try to control their lives.