Recently we heard that a Tasmanian farmer Mr Carter, has had a run in with the Tasmanian Dairy Industry Authority for giving people a taste of raw milk straight from the udder of his dairy cows after a milking demonstration. He has been issued with an infringement notice for this subversive activity even though he isn’t selling raw milk, the justification being that consumption of raw milk carries with it health risks, especially for children.
It’s true that under certain conditions such as unhygienic milking or storage practises, raw milk may pose a health risk, however one could argue that milk straight from the udder of a well-cared for animal carries little to none.
I like to think that grown adults can make the decision for themselves about whether they decide to consume raw milk and Mr Carter agrees. He says that the milk tastings are the highlight of the day for people visiting his farm and he believes that a government body should not be deciding for people what they choose to put into their bodies.
This is one example of many instances of ‘nanny state’ regulations that are in place solely to protect us from our own ‘poor’ lifestyle choices.
Bicycle helmet laws are another. Yes, it’s true that wearing a bike helmet could save your life, but it’s equally true that the decision to wear one should be up to each individual bike rider after they have assessed the pros and cons for themselves.
Calls for a sugar tax are another example of an attempt to control people from above, ostensibly for their own good. Sugar is bad okay? So we want to introduce a tax to make it harder for you to eat or drink it even if you don’t want to stop. It doesn’t take Einstein to see that a life-style tax of this sort serves only to make sugary foods and drinks more expensive and only has impact on people so poor that they can’t actually afford to add that 10 pack of Cokes to their shopping trolley after-all.
The big justification for these sorts of Nanny State regulations are the costs to the health system when people need medical treatment due to their poor choices, but how far can this argument be logically extended? Driving a car is a dangerous activity, maybe we should ban that too. Sky diving, dancing, hiking in the bush (you could get bitten by a snake or break your ankle), going out when a storm is raging (lightning you know), heck getting out of bed in the morning is a dangerous activity, and staying in bed too much is one as well! In the words of John A. Shedd, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” Living life is not about staying as safe as possible, and government bodies need to quit trying to force us to, through ‘nanny state’ laws, bans and hectoring public service announcements.
When costs to the health system are used to justify bans and rules against risk taking activity, they also serve to highlight the loss of individual freedoms that any socialised services entail.
Everyone owns the public health system and therefore everyone, that is the collective, can make demands on individuals for the sake of the greater good. You can’t get fat and be at risk of heart disease, that will cost the collective too much. You can’t ride a bike without a helmet because if you crack your skull, everyone must bear the burden. How dare you smoke?? We are all going to have to pay for your selfishness!
This goes both ways. If people are largely responsible for their own medical treatment, they may be less likely to take big risks, and the need for lifestyle taxes, bans and regulations fall away. It could even be argued that because we have a socialised health care system in Australia, people may be less likely to weigh up the true costs and benefits of their risk-taking behaviour.
We only get one shot at life and freedom means being able to choose which risks you are willing to take. No amount of finger wagging, lifestyle taxes and claims of impacts to the public health system, are adequate justification for restricting these basic human freedoms.
If people visiting a dairy farm want to consume raw milk from healthy cows, it is nobody’s business but their own, and they should be free to do so without a government authority stepping in to squash it. Same goes for people riding bikes without helmets, and people who want to drink sodas and eat ‘junk food’.
If Australia society wishes to accept a socialised health care system for the benefit of us all, then let’s also embrace the idea that human freedom and dignity requires that we retain our autonomy and remain free to take risks. Let’s stop using ‘burdening the health system’ as a justification for controlling people’s lifestyle choices.
This article was also published by Online Opinion.