- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The British press lampooned a particularly absurd European Union proposal that would have prohibited the sale of eggs by the dozen. The ridicule was so extreme that the plan, never officially introduced, was quietly withdrawn last week. Yet the incident still serves as a warning of just how fine a control bureaucratic officials seek to exert over our lives.

Leaders in Brussels initially wanted packaged food items to be sold only by weight, leaving producers no legal authority to display the quantity of items in a package. That meant the familiar carton containing a dozen eggs would be replaced by cartons of “850 grams” or “510 grams.” It would be up to you to guess how many eggs might be inside because calling it “one dozen” would be illegal. It’s already difficult enough to coordinate the purchase of 10-packs of hot dogs with 8-packs of hot dog buns when planning a holiday barbecue. Imagine the calculus involved in getting it right when only the weight of the food is known - presuming, of course, that outdoor grilling hasn’t already been outlawed under Europe’s global-warming regulations.

The EU is in the midst of revising requirements for food labels across its 26 member countries so that various weight-based nutritional information would be available on all packaging. The changes are being made in the name of forcing the public to “eat healthy” and to “combat obesity.” Early proposals also called for a traffic light to be printed on food packaging on which a green light would represent good food, and red would represent a disfavored item. On June 16, Renate Sommer, a European parliamentarian representing Germany, blasted the idea as “arbitrary” because it “demonized basic foods.”

Fortunately, both the traffic light and the dozen-egg prohibition died, but the instinct to micromanage decisions that should be made by the free market lives on. Europe’s centralized bureaucracy will still dictate the font, size, spacing and design of various labels, imposing significant costs on food producers, with little clear benefit to the general public.

The bureaucratic desire to get involved in the business of others is universal, so we should expect labels to play an increasingly intrusive role as anti-salt and anti-obesity campaigns heat up on this side of the Atlantic. Eggs by the dozen may be safe for now, but it’s only a matter of time before politicians add them to the list of things spoiled by bureaucratic directive.

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