There are moments in life in which your expectations meet reality. The “Legal but Lethal” event, held on April 23 in Brussels, happened to be such an occasion. Organised by the WEMOS Foundation the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), this conference illustrated was a magnificent illustration of the dogmatic nature of Nanny State hardliners, who are willing to invoke every spirit on the book in order to crack down on people’s lifestyles. The event was advertised as such:
“Prof. Freudenberg, Professor of Public Health at the City University of New York and Director of the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, studies how big corporations in the food, tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical and other industries use their knowledge and power to promote corporate profits at the expense of public health, and has been actively helping to build a movement to address the negative impacts of large corporations and their lobbying power on public health.”
I personally write about fast-moving consumer goods FMCG on a regular basis, so naturally, I was going to attend the meeting. And even though Prof. Freudenberg brought up the risks of smoking cigarettes, drinking in excess and eating too much, he quickly diverged into rants about a “global elite” of businessmen who make too much money. Freudenberg ranted about inequalities and corporate takeovers, to the extent that it was hard to follow where exactly food, alcohol and tobacco still fit in.
No wonder these issues were all thrown into one pot because Nicholas Freudenberg is by any reasonable standard more of an activist than he is a scientist. As a contributor to The Guardian, he named the risks of tobacco, processed foods and firearms, all in one sentence. His books, articles and lectures on the “Lethal but Legal” narrative all have one conclusion, that he reaches for a long time already: more regulation on the behaviour of individuals. The purchases made in FMCG are not the individual choices of consumers, but they are much rather the results of evil corporate strategies, with devilish tools such as marketing their products. You’ll imagine my shock at the thought that a company might dare to try and sell a product that they make and that consenting individuals could actually make independent decisions if they want to buy them.
Fortunately, Prof. Freudenberg gives us the happy news that people are waking up. Waking up to what? That’s what I’m not exactly sure about. In his lecture, Freudenberg explains that corporate interests have captured the regulatory state, yet he also lays out that significant progress has been made on the regulation of tobacco and alcohol. Which is it? Are companies capturing the state in order to regulate themselves? The narrative of Nanny State advocates that corporations are controlling regulators doesn’t seem to quite fit into the idea that measures put into place are indeed effective.
A policy analyst from the European Public Health Alliance added to Freudenberg’s lecture by states that “sugar taxes and plain packaging have been a success”, which are both blatantly false statements. The Australian example of plain packaging of cigarettes has shown no evidence what so ever that the experiment has worked, and in fact, we are seeing constant increases in the illicit tobacco trade. The idea that sugar taxes work is plainly ridiculous, particularly given the fact that Denmark, which introduced a fat tax years ago, got rid of it just 15 months later because it was a complete failure.
This, of course, doesn’t stop these activists from continuing to live on the cognitive dissonance of their failed policies and conclude that if they did not achieve the prospected results, it must be that the policy was in fact not stringent enough.
Professor Freudenberg definitely encourages them in their struggle against what the calls the corporate consumer complex: a network of rich businessmen and corporate influencers who want to… take over the world supposedly. Freudenberg continued laying out how he very much appreciate the work of U.S Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, “who addresses the problem of income inequality”. As an illustration of the real problem, Freudenberg shows us the pictures of major billionaires, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, both notorious for their for selling cigarettes and booze, as we all know.
But certainly, Freudenberg doesn’t mind the occasional billionaire, as long as he agrees with him. In the very next chapter of his lecture, the American professor praises New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $50 billion), and known for his Nanny State advocacy across the globe.
On finances, the organisers themselves should do have a lot of questions to answer. The WEMOS Foundation is an obscure group located in the Netherlands, which is government-funded (listing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a sponsor) as well as being shouldered by other foundations, such as the Adessium Foundation, which lists it’s even more obscure mission as:
“Adessium Foundation aspires to a world in which people live in harmony with each other and with their environments. The Foundation works to create a balanced society characterized by integrity, a balance between people and nature, and social harmony.”
Glad we established that.
The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) members present at the said event should definitely be up to date on the working of WEMOS since they’ve received a €6,000 check from the latter in the fiscal year of 2016. Big checks make good partners. One wonders where this sum came from, since WEMOS operates with a total lobbying budget of €10,000-€25,000, with which it supposedly sustains over 7 lobbyists. If they want to address people in precarious living conditions, they should probably take a look at their own staff.
The EPHA doesn’t seem to have a similar problem, as it pocketed over half a million euros in your taxpayer money in 2016, making more than 55 per cent of its funding dependent on the EU. No wonder the said activists want to do everything but reduce the EU’s budget: nobody saws off the branch on which they’re sitting. It’s taxpayers who should ask themselves the question if they are willing to fund the operations of people who continuously patronise them.
Professor Freudenberg, so concerned with billionaires, also doesn’t seem too concerned about the finances coming from billionaire investor George Soros, through his Open Society Foundation. In fact, Freudenberg would soon notice that the event that sponsored his stay was indeed funded by Soros, given that all three of the hosting organisation receives money from his foundation: the WEMOS Foundation with an unspecified amount, the EPHA with over €120,000, and Corporate Europe Observatory with almost half a million euros in the last ten years. This is not to say that billionaires cannot finance organisations in themselves, because they can and are entitled to. The hypocrisy of going after organisation for having wealthy donors, while openly displaying and praising your own wealthy donors, that is, (with an intended pun) very rich.
One audience member, Pascoe Sabido, who Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) identifies as a staffer of their own organisation, got up to bemoan the mere existence of companies in the European Union’s capital in itself. According to him, we should exclude all corporate interest groups, which provide valuable insights into their industries to regulators, from the city. He explained that “in Brussels, we have this idea that politicians need to talk to everyone, in order to be inclusionary. We need to give that up.” Outside of the horrendously exclusionary rhetoric, one wonders how exactly Sabido reconciles this idea with the fact that CEO received €2 million in the last 10 years from agro-business billionaire Ayman Jallad, through his Isvara Foundation. Does Jallad not have a vested interest in the agricultural lobbying of the organisation he funds? Or is the motivation of the Lebanese donor rooted in the idea that the “American Jewish Lobby” behind all of it?According to Politico Europe, the Isvara Foundation is “incorporated in Liechtenstein and managed by the Swiss banking giant UBS from Zurich”. I’m sure our “corporate observers” didn’t bother to investigate that background very much.
The event “Lethal but Legal” ended by me personally being called out by the said activists, for my involvement with the Consumer Choice Center, a grassroots-organisation that defends the consumer choice of individuals who want to choose for themselves what they want to consume. Activists had frantically texted each other to alert each other of my presence until one final speaker made the room aware of my presence. Correcting the speakers on their biases and asking questions about the predicaments of their own hypocrisy wasn’t possible, because I was cut off. When these activists noticed that I was prepared to actively challenge their dishonest narrative, people suddenly noticed that they “had to catch a train”. Visibly, open dialogue is not something these Nanny Staters practice at all.
Here’s what you need to know: these NGOs, posturing as “civil society”, are not the least bit civil. Their dialogue is discriminatory, exclusionary, divisive and hateful. They don’t believe in your free will as consumers and parade themselves as people of great virtue who know how to run your lives. Everyone who disagrees with them either “doesn’t think about the children” or “is in the pocket of big business”. They are professional Nanny Staters, and they won’t back down until you had your last drop of fun.
It’s time to stand up to these people, and to the regulatory avalanche, they want to bring down on ordinary consumers, by exposing their unscientific proceedings and their exclusionary rhetoric.
This article was first published by Comment Central.
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