Get this … Mexican government officials have just seized 380,000 boxes of Kellogg's cereal as if it was a narcotics drug bust. 75 retail outlets were raided along with a warehouse located north of Mexico City.
Why on Earth, you ask? Over the last decade, Mexico has made several laws intending to curb the obesity crisis in the country. Those laws are the reason for the absurdity that occurred.
The Obesity Problem
First, lets’ understand where this is coming from. According to the latest numbers from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (last update from 2017), Mexico comes in at number two, just behind the US, in terms of the percentage of obesity in adults.
But, according to the World Obesity Federation (yes, there is such a thing), Mexico and the US are not even in the top 10 countries. So, who knows what the truth is. Regardless of the accuracy of the data, obesity is a real problem throughout the world. We can see this with our own eyes. But, are arbitrary government policies the answer? As with most everything, I say no.
Obesity Legislation in Mexico
In October of 2014, Mexico put a tax on sugary drinks at 10% per liter. Obviously, that hasn’t solved the problem, and in fact, is likely doing more harm than good. As usual, taxes hurt the poor the most. In many communities, safe drinking water is hard to come by — bottled soda is safer. So now, the option for a safe drink is made more expensive with no added benefit. A tax of 8% was also put on processed food that contains more than 275 calories per 100g, adding further economic burden to the poor.
In August of 2020, the government amended Official Mexican Standard NOM-051-SCFI/SSA1-2010, titled, “Especificaciones Generales De Etiquetado Para Alimentos Y Bebidas No Alcohólicas Preenvasados-Información Comercial y Sanitaria” (translated as “General Specifications of Prepackaged Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages — Commercial and Sanitary Information”).
Packaging Digest has all the details of the amendment here. Part of the amendment bans the marketing of sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks to children. As of April 1, 2021, relevant products identified by the government,
must not include “children’s characters, animations, cartoons, celebrities, athletes or pets, interactive elements, such as visual-space games or digital downloads” that are directed at children to incite, promote, or encourage consumption of products with excess critical nutrients or sweeteners.
Government removes the fun out of everything. Mexican states, such as Oaxaca (pronounced wah-ha-ca), have added their own further modifications to the Mexican law. For example, instead of simply banning the marketing of sugary food and drink to children, the state of Oaxaca has gone a step further and put an outright ban on the sale to children. This is included in their law titled, “Bis de la Ley de los Derechos de Niñas, Niños y Adolescentes del Estado de Oaxaca” (translated as “Law of the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents of the State of Oaxaca”).
The Oaxaca government claims — translated from the official Twitter account of the Oaxaca Congress — that this ban would “protect the health of the entire population, through promotion and establishment, from an early age.”
The law imposes fines and potential closures of stores that break the rule, but I couldn’t find any details of the penalties.
So, back to the seizure of the cereal …
The cereal seizure included boxes of Corn Flakes, Special K, and other Kellogg cereals. The claim was that the boxes were marketed in a way that appealed to children because they had cartoon drawings on them. This violated the law.
Mexico’s consumer protection agency also claimed that nutritional values or warnings for excessive ingredients were not clearly stated on the boxes.
The US has had requirements to state nutritional values on boxes for years and the obesity problem has only gotten worse. So, clearly the solution to obesity isn’t as simple as writing a law to identify ingredients.
In the ‘90s, the government and their nutrition “experts” gave Americans the food pyramid which told us to maximize our carbohydrate intake while avoiding protein. Talk about unintended consequences! Remember this when cretins chide you for questioning the politically-approved scientific “experts” of today.
Prohibition Always Ends in Failure
Prohibition doesn’t work and only makes things worse. Alcohol prohibition in the US — enacted by idealistic politicians that think prohibition leads to a life of rainbows and unicorns — caused all sorts of problems.
In response to the prohibition at the time, the great H. L. Mencken wrote in 1925,
“There is not less drunkenness in the Republic but more. Not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more. The cost of government is not smaller, but vastly greater. Respect for law has not increased, but diminished.”
For example (to name a few), look at the War on Poverty, War on Terrorism, and War on Inflation. Welfare has increased the number of those on welfare, perpetual Middle East wars have encouraged the rise of more terrorism, further monetary stimulus and price controls have only exacerbated price increases.
What’s the Solution?
So, if prohibition and silly laws won’t solve the problem of obesity, what will? Well, as with anything, freedom is the path to take. In a free world, consumption of unhealthy food and drinks may not decrease (and may even increase for some who unfortunately choose to be unhealthy). But, freedom is the path to prosperity. That is the key. Freedom is responsible for lifting most of the world out of poverty. With prosperity comes options in life. When you have options, you have the luxury of choosing a more healthy option.
Think of the “well-off” shopping for their groceries at Whole Foods Market. Their prosperity has afforded them the luxury of quibbling over whether or not their fruit snacks are organic, their juice is cold-pressed, their chicken has been air-chilled (whatever that means), their cookies are vegan, etc.
If poor communities in Mexico were able to increase their standard of living, perhaps a clean water supply would present itself as an option to bottled soda. Instead, taxes and bans only add to the people’s current economic burden.
If healthy eating is desirable, education and honest persuasion (not coercion) are more effective, and you don’t get the unintended side effects that a policy of prohibition inevitably brings.
Side note that anyone with a Latin mother would find darkly humorous:
As I was searching for details of the “Law of the Rights of Girls, Boys and Adolescents of the State of Oaxaca,” I came across the banning of flips-flops (among other things) to be used with physical violence as a corrective method for children and adolescents.
My first thought after seeing this was of my Cuban mother throwing her chancleta at me for acting stupid when I was young. Of course, she never harmed a hair on my body (and would never do so), so it was more comical to me as a smart-ass child seeing my frustrated mother with the inclination to grab whatever was on her feet and hurl it across the room in my direction.
Now, I shouldn’t have to say this, but, of course, child abuse (physical and emotional) is abhorrent and evil. But, anyone with a brain knows that simply making a law that says you can’t use a certain object to hurt children is not going to stop those that will inevitably hurt children. There is evil in the world. Evil doesn’t abide by silly laws.