- Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to roll out sweeping new rules for the sale and advertisement of unhealthy food, including a ban on TV ads for junk food before 9 p.m.
- The move comes as a growing body of evidence has shown that obesity is an increased risk factor for the coronavirus.
- Johnson had previously opposed efforts to crack down on unhealthy foods, but according to reports, he changed his mind after he was hospitalized for COVID-19 in April, now believing his weight was a contributing factor to the severity of his illness.
- While some praised the plan, food manufacturers, advertising agencies, and broadcasters condemned it, arguing that the measure would hurt the economy and have little effect on reducing obesity.
New Food Rules
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to ban junk food advertisements from airing on television before 9 p.m. as a part of a series of new regulations on how junk food is sold and advertised. Those rules are set to be rolled out early next week.
While the plans have yet to be finalized, sources have told reporters that, in addition to the crackdown on televised ads, the new rules are likely to include a ban on online ads for unhealthy foods, restrictions on in-store promotions, and requirements for some restaurants to put calorie labels on menus.
The move marks a significant shift for Johnson, who has previously criticized the U.K.’s sugar tax as a “sin stealth tax.”
However, the prime minister changed his tune after he was hospitalized with the coronavirus in April. According to reports, Johnson believes that his weight was a contributing factor to his illness and hospitalization.
Numerous studies have shown that people who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19, a fact noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While speaking at a medical center in east London, Johnson said that while he did not like “nannying” the country, he believed that overweight U.K. citizens need to get in shape to protect themselves from COVID-19.
“Obesity is one of the real co-morbidity factors,” he said. “Losing weight, frankly, is one of the ways you can reduce your own risk from coronavirus.”
Statistics provided by the government estimate that in 2019, 28.7% of adults in England were obese, while another 35.6% are overweight. Currently, the U.K. has the highest coronavirus death rate in Europe.
Speaking to BBC Friday, Health and Social Care Minister Helen Whately said that obesity was “possibly the greatest health challenge” the U.K. has faced “particularly with Covid.”
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Chairman of the National Obesity Forum Tam Fry praised the prime minister’s plan.
“There hasn’t been a ban like this but it has got to be given a try – and if after a period of time it is shown not to be so effective, then maybe it will stop,” he said. “It is indeed a risk but the problem is that the consequence of obesity is so great that risks and daring measures have to be put in place.”
However, the idea has also been rejected by food manufacturers, advertising agencies, and broadcasters, who were quick to voice their strong opposition.
Tim Rycroft, the chief operating officer of the Food and Drink Federation, called move a “slap in the face” to the food industry which has worked “heroically” to keep food output going during the pandemic.
“It is going to put enormous costs on the advertising industry and on broadcasters at a time when the economy is in quite a tenuous situation,” he continued.
In a letter to Johnson sent by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), the organization pointed out that a government impact assessment from last year showed that a ban on ads for unhealthy foods and drinks would be negligible in changing childrens’ diets.
“The introduction of such a draconian measure at this time could have deep repercussions for agencies and the advertising sector, generally, in terms of jobs and creative output, for very little end result,” IPA director general Paul Bainsfair wrote in the letter.
Those remarks were also echoed by Stephen Woodford, the chief executive of the Advertising Association, who argued that the ban would hurt small companies.
“Speculation that the government intends to introduce bans on high fat, salt and sugar advertising would be in direct conflict with its own evidence that such restrictions would have a minimal impact on obesity levels,” he said.
“These measures, if introduced, would have significant economic impact at a time when the economy is already under strain. The government must reconsider any proposals which could damage the recovery.”
Johnson’s new initiative is not the only plan aimed at tackling obesity that has been proposed in recent years. In 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron was set to announce significant regulations on food marketing and advertising. However, he abruptly left office after Brexit, and Theresa May, his successor, abandoned most of his ideas.
In 2018, May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt came out with plans to ban fast food advertising on TV before 9 p.m. and stop supermarkets from promoting unhealthy foods, but those plans dissolved after Johnson took office.
With Johnson’s new revival of the measures, many hope that the U.K. will once and for all have a comprehensive plan to tackle manageable obesity.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (The Independent)
Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling
The reforms follow similar moves by France and Germany as leaders across the political spectrum denounce the court’s decision.
Health Minister Makes Announcement
Israel is easing access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister and head of the small left-wing Meretz party, announced Monday.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to abortion is a dark move,” he said in the announcement, “oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backward.”
The new rules, approved by a majority in the parliamentary committee, grant women access to abortion pills through the universal health system. Women will be able to obtain the pills at local health centers rather than only hospitals and surgical clinics.
The new policy also removes the decades-old requirement for women to physically appear before a special committee that must grant approval to terminate a pregnancy.
While women will still need to get approval, the process will become digitized, the application form will be simplified, and the requirement to meet a social worker will become optional.
The committee will only conduct hearings in the rare case it initially denies the abortion procedure.
Israel’s 1977 abortion law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: If the woman is under 18 or over 40, if the fetus is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an “illicit union,” including extramarital affairs, and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.
All of the changes will take effect over the next three months.
The World Reacts
Politicians across the political spectrum from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision since it was announced Friday.
On Saturday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed support for a bill proposed by parliament that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution.
“For all women, for human rights, we must set this gain in stone,” she wrote on Twitter. “Parliament must be able to unite overwhelmingly over this text.”
Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law prohibiting the promotion of abortion Friday, just hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
In Israel, abortion is a far less controversial issue than it is for Americans. Around 98% of people who apply for an abortion get one, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.
Part of the reason for Israel’s relatively easy access to abortion is that many residents interpret Jewish law to condone, or at least not prohibit, the procedure.
In the United States, several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, and the Women’s Rabbinic Network have expressed opposition to the court ruling, and some Jews have protested it as a violation of their religious freedom.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (The Guardian)
Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the U.K.’s asylum policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.
Saved By The Bell
The inaugural flight in the U.K. government’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled about an hour and a half before it was supposed to take off Tuesday evening.
A last-minute legal intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the flight. Tuesday’s flight originally included 37 people, but after a string of legal challenges that number dwindled to just seven.
In its ruling for one of the seven passengers, a 54-year-old Iraqi man, the court said he cannot be deported until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings.
Another asylum seeker, a 26-year-old Albanian man, told The Guardian he was in a “very bad mental state” and did not want to go to Rwanda, a country he knows nothing about.
“I was exploited by traffickers in Albania for six months,” he said. “They trafficked me to France. I did not know which country I was being taken to.”
A final domestic effort to block the flight in the Court of Appeals failed on Monday. The High Court will make a ruling on the asylum policy next month.
Britains Divided by Controversial Policy
U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to lawmakers after the flight was canceled, defending the asylum policy and saying preparations for the next flight will begin immediately.
“We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation including that of hotels,” she said. “We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities.”
“It makes us less safe as a nation because those who come here illegally do not have the regularized checks or even the regularized status, and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country,” she continued.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, told CBC the policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.
“We believe that this is all wrong,” he said. “This is all wrong. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the right, is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’s… I don’t know what it is.”
An Iranian asylum seeker in a British detention center who was told to prepare for deportation before being granted a late reprieve was asked by ABC whether he ever thought the U.K. would send him to Africa.
“I thought in the U.K. there were human rights,” he said. “But so far I haven’t seen any evidence.”
The Conservative government’s plan was announced in April, when it said it would resettle some asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where they can seek permanent refugee status, apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country.
The scheme was meant to deter migrants from illegally smuggling themselves into the country by boat or truck.
Migrants have long made the dangerous journey from Northern France across the English Channel, with over 28,000 entering the U.K. in boats last year, up from around 8,500 the year prior. Dozens of people have died making the trek, including 27 who drowned last November when a single boat capsized.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (CNN)
Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans
Afrikaans, which is only spoken as a first language by around 13% of South Africa, has not been the country’s national language since apartheid came to an end in 1994.
Airline Won’t Explain Discrimination
Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism after it began requiring South African nationals to complete a test in Afrikaans to prove their passport isn’t fraudulent.
The airline told BBC the new policy was implemented because of “substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the U.K.”
Among other questions, the test asks passengers to name South Africa’s president, its capital city, and one national public holiday.
Ryanair has not said why it chose Afrikaans, the Dutch colonial language that many associate with white minority rule, for the test.
There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and Afrikaans ranks third for usage below Zulu and IsiXhosa. Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as their first language.
“They’re using this in a manner that is utterly absurd,” Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, told reporters. “Afrikaans, you have roughly 20% of the population of South Africa understand Afrikaans. But the rest don’t, so you’re sitting with roughly 50 million people who do not understand Afrikaans.”
“Ryanair should be careful,” he continued. “Language is a sensitive issue. They may well end up in front of the Human Rights Commission with this.”
Ryanair’s policy only applies to South African passengers flying to the United Kingdom from within Europe, since it does not fly out of South Africa.
The British government has said in a statement that it does not require the test.
Anyone who cannot complete the test will be blocked from traveling and given a refund.
Memories of Apartheid Resurface
“The question requiring a person to name a public holiday is particularly on the nose given that SA has a whole public holiday NEXT WEEK commemorating an historic protest that started in response to language-based discrimination,” one person tweeted.
South African citizen Dinesh Joseph told the BBC that he was “seething” with anger when asked to take the test.
“It was the language of apartheid,” he said, adding that it was a trigger for him.
Officials in the country were also surprised by Ryanair’s decision.
“We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the Department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel,” South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.
Any airline found to have flown a passenger with a fake passport to the U.K. faces a fine of £2,000 from authorities there. Ryanair has also not said whether it requires similar tests for any other nationalities.
Many people expressed outrage at Ryanair’s policy and some told stories of being declined service because they did not pass the test.