I have been spending a little time recently, in one of Hong Kong's "rival" cities, to where a number of people I know have de-camped from Asia's "World City". Why the move? They cite the usual reasons like pollution in Hong Kong, lifestyle, better for the children where they are moving to - while Hong Kong Government statisticians continue to tell us that the inflow into Hong Kong of new companies has never been higher. Amazing what you can do with numbers and statistics - just another type of labeling I guess, but we will get onto that in a minute.
The city I talk of is, of course, Singapore. The original "nanny state" of Asia where citizens (and occasionally visitors) have been instructed in how long their hair should be, how to be polite, what type of person they should marry, what they should not drink or chew as children, and so on. But guess what; it doesn't seem to have done Singapore any harm, and they have achieved certain standards of behaviour, politeness and cleanliness, making it a really pleasant city. And much less talk of "nannying" these days it seems, as that mantle passes to Hong Kong. As if by confirmation, a note in a recently researched web-site states "...Attempts to introduce new taxes, labor regulations (like a minimum wage), the emergence of bodies with arbitrary power of prosecution, corporate welfare and nanny-state legislation are on the rise."
I tend to agree; but the "nannying" goes much further than just in relation to business!
As we try to remain healthy in the face of breathing the foul air in Hong Kong, by at least eating the right sort of foods, up pops the Government with its latest craze. Food labeling.
Don't get me wrong, I am completely in favour of food labeling. We have a right to know what we are eating - and some of the proposed legislation in Hong Kong is helpful, even if it does try to second guess the quality of labeling of the producing country.
If the new rules currently under discussion are passed into legislation, as seems likely at present, all imported packaged foods must bear Hong Kong-specific nutrition labels. That's okay, and easy for the high volume imports, as they can adapt their labeling to suit. But lower volume imports, such as your specialist foods, health foods, the sort of things you like to see daily on your breakfast table, for example are at risk.
Now, while the authorities have accepted the argument that many packaged foods entering Hong Kong are low volume, (defined as less than 30,000 pieces annually), they have exempted these products from the specific labeling - BUT, and here's the rub - woe betide any importer who, wishing to make use of the exemption, finds that in addition to the nutritional values given on the packaging, also finds the packaging contains nutritional claims. You know the sort of thing; "Fat Free", "Sugar Free", "Gluten Free" "Omega 3s". Oh no! Nutritional claims are NOT allowed and therefore the products are NOT exempt.
Well, of course, we do want to be sure that these nutritional claims are genuine - and well, why should we just take the word of another jurisdiction that permits such labeling 'cos "nanny" assumes they must have got it wrong.
Oh, but did I mention that Hong Kong already has a labeling law in place today, which mandates no less, that any representation made on food packaging must be true? Hmm; so actually we are covered already from false claims?
I love Hong Kong. I enjoy living here as does my family, but we are about to lose many of the things that we enjoy having on our shelves. Those foods that elsewhere in the world are deemed to be healthy but which "nanny" says I now can't have.
Time was, in Hong Kong, when people were able to make choices for themselves.
No longer it seems, so perhaps we are really heading to the point so neatly portrayed on our friend Alfred E Neuman's "Mad: magazine for this month where in bold letters, at the bottom right hand corner, are imprinted the words "Viva La Stupidity".