The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – On Mandating Healthful Consumption


Jeff Cumberbatch – Chairman of the FTC and Deputy Dean, Law Faculty, UWI, Cave Hill

The modern emphasis by the state of attempting to reduce the local incidence of the chronic non-communicable diseases, better known by their acronym CNCDs, may be based on the best of intentions, even though it might be argued that there is also some element of self-interest, given the enormous costs to the state of treating these illnesses and the massive loss of productivity occasioned by their contraction.

This initiative might also be classified as being purely of latter-day vintage. Take, for example, the current deprecation of sodas or what we call “sweet drinks”. There was a time when the consumption of these was considered almost de rigueur by most of the boys at my secondary school during the break period. In those days, in addition to the Frutee and Ju-C products, BIM manufactured a number of flavours in almost all the colours of the rainbow; red (Kola Champagne), orange, yellow (???), green (Lime Lemon), Cream Soda, Banana and Grape.

There was no talk back then of taxing the purchase of these by 50%, as has recently been suggested, or even the more realistic ten percent. And for the majority, these were consumed with the accompaniment of one variety or other of  ‘cutter available from either of the onymous “Marys” who peddled their fare in the proximity of the tuck shop as it was called. The fillings ranged from ham to corned beef to cheese to bologna, and for those with a sweet tooth there were turnovers. Nowadays, such a diet is likely to be frowned on,  although most of any ill effects then might probably have been eroded by the benefit of youth and a vigorous regimen during the lunch hour of either a robust game of “Bruise” or “first-hop cricket” on the path.

But that was in an era when obesity was quaintly associated with prosperity and “looking good”. Nowadays, when it is regarded rather as evidence malnutrition or a sign of impending ill health and when  we are advised to monitor carefully our consumption of sugar, fat and salt and to exercise more strenuously, the issue arises as to the extent of the coercive power of the state to enforce compliance with the objectives of its national health policy.

Unlike some other jurisdictions, Barbados appears to operate on the  premise that there exists a fundamental right in each individual to consume whatever might take his or her fancy at any time, and that the state has no right or power to interfere with this entitlement. This might not be a total misapprehension of the legal position. Indeed, in one jurisdiction where such a prescription had been attempted in the design of a more healthful diet and reducing obesity, the court was prepared to rule it ultra vires [beyond the powers of]the Board that had imposed it.

I refer to the failed effort some years ago of the New York City Council under Mayor Bloomberg to impose size limits on the sale of sugary drinks in the city. The court that treated the matter when the beverage industry impugned the legality of the measure considered the imposed limits to be arbitrary and capricious and held that the New York Board of Health had overreached its jurisdiction in creating an uneven enforcement both in regard to the drinks affected and to the establishments that might sell them.

Too besides, it bears remarking that public opinion was significantly against the measure- by 60-40 according to one New York Times poll. Given a likely similar division of opinion in Barbados, our governing administrations that are seemingly wont to create policy while keeping a steely eye fixed on their electoral fortunes, would understandably be loath to attempt an identical edict.

As to the vexed question whether there is a fundamental right to consume the food of one’s choice, I have been referred to a contrary  opinion clearly expressed by one judge in Wisconsin, USA,  that such a right does not in law exist, although I have not had the benefit of reading the reasoned judgment for this alarming proposition.

The converse might certainly be the popular perception, as Mrs Michelle Obama would have learnt much to her chagrin last week, when the Agriculture Secretary in the Trump administration announced a rollback on the school lunch standards to combat childhood obesity that the former first Lady had recently championed. These included whole grain requirements, lowered sodium content and milk options, while providing more fruits and vegetables. However, according to the Agriculture Secretary, these stipulations had conduced to the majority of children simply not eating the lunches.

The issue for us is one of those that, as the corporal punishment of children in schools and the execution of the death penalty, among others, are likely to recur periodically in the popular discourse never to be resolved. At least not so long as there remains among us a sufficiently substantive body of Luddite opinion that believes we inhabit the best of all possible worlds and that any change will be for the worse.

More over, the debate as to the moral entitlement of the state to regulate consumption is liable to be submerged in a complex discourse on the natural rights on man, the degree of entrepreneurial freedom and the ends to which taxation may be legitimately employed by the state in a free democratic society. What shall we do?

31 thoughts on “The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – On Mandating Healthful Consumption

  1. If an individual has a right to health care paid for by the community, then the community has the right to regulate substances which adversely affect the individual’s health.

  2. Again, this is merely empty talk by the country.

    Should Barbados as a country saw health care as a national priority it would have taken clear actions long ago.

    These would have included community based medicine, the refusal to import a wide list of substances, the teaching of self-preventative health care in school, taxing out of existence people who poison us with fried foods, the establishment of Barbados as a vegan haven as unique in the world, a curtailment of the reliance of pharmaceuticals, banning sugar cane except for bio-fuel production.

    And more

  3. People are responsible for they garbage the put in their stomachs that cause these NCDs.

    The government, as Peter said, is responsible for regulating the sale of foods that cause NCDs, so that those who refuse to control their avarice for garbage do not unduly become a burden on the healthcare system.

    Of course no one wants to take responsibility for their own actions, so they will all continue to whine about NCDs and most will drop dead.

  4. ”although most of any ill effects then might probably have been eroded by the benefit of youth and a vigorous regimen during the lunch hour of either a robust game of “Bruise” or “first-hop cricket” on the path.”

    Well said.

    However, that takes us onto another relevant point. That of exercise and encouragement by the Government.

    Now, THERE is where I can see a VAT exemption, if there ever is one. Bicycles and specific exercise gear / wear i.e. training shoes, weight equipment, ‘listed’ sports gear such as cricket bats, footballs, tennis raquets etc.

    We need to encourage exercise, along with discouraging over consumption.

    On that point, is any withholding tax taken on franchise fees paid to overseas companies?

    Most countries apply withholding taxes on earnings sent out of the country.


    “Today I want to pay homage to and to take my hat off to a political visionary,a very astute Gentleman,our PM Mr: Freundel J. Stuart. In 2013 at a political platform meeting i heard Mr Stuart say that in the 2018 elections the BLP will use the DLP’S 2013 election’s campaign strategies. And he was so right I saw three ads already from the BLP and I can identify them as ads the DLP used in 2013 even a song they copied “not them again” and this is the blp I heard have so much talent and creative abilities/ talent but have to use strategies the DLP used in previous elections!? So where is the creativity in that party (blp)?. Mr Stuart wherever you are take a bow Sir you’re a man of vision. I keep hearing some people talking about what a good PM Mia will/would make I am yet to see the evidence of this. She can’t even come up with her own unique campaign strategies she have to depend on the DLP’S old and used ones and depend on the unions to help her out by creating certain impressions that they are yet to produce the evidence of. Let us turn our attention to and examine Mia here. Mia was a minister of education in the Owen Arthur led administration she introduced a program called the edutec/edutek with emphasis on the word tek that was a monumental failure. $300 million spent alone on edutec but not a thing to show for it. She was Attorney General(AG) with responsibility for the Glendairy prison and was warned time after time after time about the goings on at the prison and she did absolutely nothing to stem the tide, instead she allegedly committed the blp to distributing condoms in the same prison which Owen Arthur allegedly distanced his self or the party from. And we all know what was the results of the prison and for those who don’t know there was a prison riot and part of the prison was burnt, there was a death resulting from the same riots that same day at the prison. A next prison was built allegedly for $700 million (against advice) and if that wasn’t extravagant enough every year because of the arrangements it was built under the administration of the present day have to pay out $30 million us every January to the contractor(s). You know how many things that $30 million us could be doing right now. She was Deputy PM and have never advance a cause for women/females especially the vulnerable and or disadvantage in our society. Have done nothing to elevate that position or her political roles as(minister,AG or Deputy PM) to cause people especially females to aspire to such heights. Not a single piece of legislation has she ever passed for women’s rights or the rights of the underprivileged, disadvantage or vulnerable yet they say she would make a good PM but when you question the people who regurgitating this political nonsensical dribble not one can tell you what would make her a good or great PM other than “I like to hear she speak she intelligent” so what? because you like to hear she speak that would make her a good or great PM? Because you perceived her to be intelligent that would make her a good or great PM? How is she any more intelligent than any other MP? Did she not go to the same Schools and universities as any body else? I know gifted people who went to gifted schools and universities that wasn’t the same schools and universities that the average intelligent persons went to. If she was anymore intelligent than most she would have been considered “gifted” and gone off to such schools and universities. She is leader of the opposition BLP and some of the blp supporters said the worst leader the party ever had. So where is the evidence that she would be a good or great PM? Mottley believes because of who she is( a Mottley) she has/have a divine entitlement to be the PM and this is being supported by others who knows no better so I would excuse them. Nobody have/ has a divine entitlement to be a or the leader of a country. There is a difference between entitlement,right and right (s). She has a right to run for political office,she has a right to aspire to highest political office but she don’t have the right or entitlement divine or otherwise to be a /the PM on the basis of her surname or where she was allegedly born. I will have lots more to say on this and other topical issues but in the interest of time I will end it here and of course I am subject to corrections.”

  6. @ PLT
    If an individual has a right to health care paid for by the community, then the community has the right to regulate substances which adversely affect the individual’s health.
    If only it was that simple.

    Unfortunately, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. There are things that Bushie would not touch …that are staples for most Bajans …and probably vice versa…

    Perhaps our error is in the state guaranteeing a right to free health care.
    Perhaps there should be a health insurance premium, calculated annually, and based on individual health matrices, payable by all citizens.
    High health index = low premium
    Low health index = high premium

    Then let them all eat whatever they want…. 🙂

  7. Not only that but Mia now has Hartley Henry as her political adviser.

    DAVID will remember him.

  8. Peter

    Well stated.

    ….coupled with that is a need for a health committee that is on the ball as well as a Chemical standards body that will monitor the pesticides and weedicides that are entering our food chain.

    ……for decades our foods have in a proven asthma causing agent the main culprit being corn curls sold at schools all over the island

    …….aspartame in diet drinks has been identified as being harmful to humans.

    A holistic look must be taken by govt not only on sugar which in its un-purified is better than most alternatives.

  9. The consumption of salt and sugar is astronomically high in Barbados; whilst there has been a decline in the consumption of ground provisions by the local population and an increase in the number of junk fast food outlets such as Burger King, KFC and Chefettes.

    The exotic produce that we are capable of growing on the islands such as avocado, coconuts, sweet potato, yams, et al. are in demand throughout the world. Their health benefits are recognised by developed nations. Yet, here we find ourselves living in a country positioned at number one with the highest levels of diabetes.

    Who is to blame for this? Should we shoulder the blame on an ignorant population, an indifferent government or is there in plan to decimate the negro population residing on the plantation island?

  10. This piece by Jeff should force us to ask the hard questions of our leaders -why have we not more forcefully regulated the fast food industry? Why have we not not insisted that the ingredients in foods sold to the public be properly /publicly displayed? It would send a strong signal the importance of being health conscious, it would certainty assist those of us who want to eat healthy.

  11. @ David
    How can it be government’s responsibility to force people to do what is right for their own health? Some people need multiple specialists doctors to determine what is best for them at that particular time … far less some shiite government prescribing what is..
    Look how the FDA has become the mouthpiece of big pharma in the USA…

    Boss, the ONLY POSSIBLE person who will be responsible for bushie’s diet is the bushman HIMSELF…. not even his damn doctor…who tried to get Bushie to stop using honey “because it is the same thing as sugar”…

    Whether or not government mandates that ingredients be listed is neither here nor there because ALL THAT INFORMATION tends to be available on line… to those who really want to know.

    Some responsibilities are PERSONAL.
    We live, and die, by the decisions that we take in these areas.
    ..Knowledge (REAL knowledge of the purpose of life)
    ..Commitment to righteousness
    ..Relationship with fellow humans
    ..relationship with BBE

    Those who leave it to the government, the church, the school, or the doctor …to make their decisions for them, should expect to be exploited 90% of the time.

    • @Bush Tea

      What about consumers like us who want to have an idea the levels of salt, carbohydrates, calories and other ingredients in foods offered for consumption? It is not only about those who do not care.

  12. In my salad days I indulged in all the pursuits highlighted by Jeff and participated in exploring all the culinary delights that I could afford with nary a thought on whether a “cut-drop” was good or bad for my health. I even smoked a “Bristol” or two and spent the occasional evening with likeminded friends prior to catching the bus in Cardy Trotman’s place polishing off a few Banks or the occasional Mount Gay with each one responsible for a Parish so prominently displayed on the bottle. As an adult I’ve made different choices and although here are several bottles of grog in the home and more than a few bottles of wine there are mostly there (except for the Sunday wine) for the enjoyment of friends.

    I strenuously object to the cash grab by the State in the name of saving coppers in applying a consumption tax on food, there are myriad ways that people can impair their health but why focus on “sweet drink’ consumption? Notably these ideas are propagated and supported by people who are in the “slippered pantaloon” stage of their lives and have been diagnosed with some NCD and are lamenting a misspent life feasting on the fat of the land, God help us if they come down with a sexually transmitted disease. What if I make tons of “sweet bread”, would flour be under scrutiny? For those who like mauby is mauby bark or syrup going to be taxed? What about that “demon rum” should that be taxed out of existence? Since sugar is at the root of this problem perhaps we should abandon the sugar industry – sorry I misspoke – (already completed).

    We still live in a “free” society and public education about food choices is a more productive approach rather than the imposition of taxes. If we choose to ignore the consequences the worms will get us sooner rather than later.

  13. This piece by Jeff should force us to ask the hard questions of our leaders -why have we not more forcefully regulated the fast food industry? Why have we not not insisted that the ingredients in foods sold to the public be properly /publicly displayed?

    You have neatly captured the gist of tis essay, David, but I also supplied the answer. Simply put, such an initiative carries very little electoral advantage for an administration and may very well be perceived as intrusive state action into the private sphere.

    • @Jeff

      Alas but it does!

      The cost of attending to NCDs in Barbados has added to the burgeoning deficit in government finances. The universal model of health care is now in jeopardy of being dismantled. And so on…

  14. @ David
    What about consumers like us who want to have an idea the levels of salt, carbohydrates, calories and other ingredients in foods offered for consumption?
    Bushie hates it when you set out to make him sin his soul…. 🙂

    YOU (who can find out the exact date that Freundel signed the CAHILL contract that he SAID PUBLICLY the he knew nothing about) are asking about finding out how much salt is in Cheffette’s roti? …or sugar in Trickidadian diabetes juice?

    Ask google!!

    Boss, wuh this is Barbados.
    Even if they had labels on every roti – listing the ingredients and the percentages….
    AS MAN!!!
    …would you believe what the label says…?

    Well not stinking Bushie…..
    ha ha ha

    • Do not agree with you Bushie, use of ingredients in food is not standard- this is how restaurants (sellers of food)differentiate in taste for example. You need to watch foodnetwork!

  15. Exactly…
    So why would you even expect them to share their taste secrets (including addictive MSG use age)?
    The solution is simple…
    Cook your own damn food.

    • Come on Bushie, you are surely not saying that a restaurant should not be obligated to display levels of ingredients contained in foods on menu as required in the developed world? At the minimum offer healthy/vegan menus?

  16. Not saying that David.
    Bushie is saying that even if they were forced by government to do so, Bushie would not trust the labels because business people are known to put their profits and trade secrets ABOVE bushie’s welfare…
    Bushie would therefore frequent a restaurant based on OTHER factors… such as an intimate knowledge of their ethical history; the fact that their staff eat their own food; and the (always respected) response of the bushman’s body to exposure to their food.

    Once bitten twice shy..
    Bottom line….
    It is an individual responsibility to look after your body. NOT a government mandate.

    • Understood Bushie!

      Observing any Chefette or KFC drive thru after 6PM it is amazing the long line of traffic. Even on Sundays. We have gone passed the point of no return as far as lifestyle is concerned.

  17. @ Bush tea who wrote “Cook your own damn food.”

    I would add grow as much of your own food as possible.

    • @Hants

      Neither political parties have demonstrated any serious commitment to agriculture. Then factor the lifestyle of Barbadians. Isn’t Chefette up to about 20 outlets these days?

  18. There is a lot of fat on the average whole chicken.I wonder if the fast food supporters realize the amount of fat and hormone laden skin they consume so greedy like.

  19. Barbados will only get serious about agriculture when there is no “forex” to import food.

    Last time I visited, Chefette had nice tasting ice cream ….and clean washrooms. lol.

    As long as all the knowledgeable farmers have not died out there is hope for food production in Barbados.

  20. @Carson C. Cadogan May 7, 2017 at 8:56 AM “MORNING BLP PEOPLE. Today I want to pay homage to and to take my hat off to a political visionary,a very astute Gentleman,our PM Mr. Freundel J. Stuart.”

    Go away!!!

  21. @Jeff Cumberbatch “What shall we do?”

    Impose a 100% tax of sweetened drinks, juice drinks, sweetened milk, all of them.

    And what about the peasants?

    I’ll paraphrase the statement mis-attributed to Marie Antoinette.

    Let them drink water.

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