Food Freedom

The State of Food Freedom Around the Globe

Authoritarian cruelty in Hungary, civil disobedience in Ukraine, and booze reform in Canada


If you've read more than a handful of my six-plus years of weekly columns here, you know that food freedom does not happen in a linear fashion. Laws and regulations get better in some parts of America, while worsening in others. It will likely come as no surprise that international food laws reflect this same frustrating dichotomy.

There's the good, which oftentimes takes the form of deregulation. In Poland, for example, a bill would let local farmers sell their produce directly to grocers, restaurants, and other food businesses. And in Quebec, lawmakers recently passed a law that will legalize the service of alcohol by restaurants to customers who don't order food. (That may leave another law still on the books in Canada—British Columbia's ban on hamburgers that aren't well done, which I wrote about earlier this year—as the nation's dumbest.)

Then there's the bad. In France, for example, lawmakers are pushing for mandatory GMO labeling of animal feed.

And there's the truly awful. Perhaps the most unsettling recent international food-law news comes out of Hungary, where the country's anti-immigrant government is threatening to imprison people who provide food to refugees.

"If approved in its current form criminal penalties could be imposed on groups accused of supporting or financing illegal immigration," The Independent reported recently.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban sits before addressing parliament in Budapest, Hungary, May 18, 2018. Photo credit: BERNADETT SZABO/REUTERS/Newscom

The proposal is being pushed by fascistic Prime Minister Viktor Orban as part of his bizarre, longstanding campaign against billionaire American financier and philanthropist George Soros. Orban accuses Soros, who was born in Hungary and survived the country's occupation by Nazi Germany and its collaborationist government, of funding nonprofit groups in Hungary as part "of a plot to undermine Hungary's Christian culture by flooding it with immigrants." The appalling "Stop Soros" measure is expected to become law soon.

Some elements of this repugnant policy might feel right at home today here in the United States—and not just because America's own despicable president took a page from Hungary's Orban this week when he tweeted that those who oppose his immigration policies simply "want illegal immigrants… to pour into and infest" America.

Consider that, as I discuss at length in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us, for years now cities around the country have jailed people for nothing more than sharing food with the homeless and others in need. And, as I noted in a tweet last week, the USDA's awful National School Lunch Program may have been put in charge of feeding undocumented children who've been separated from their families and locked up in prison-like facilities.

Awful as these laws are, sometimes we're lucky enough to see someone willing to fight back by sticking their thumb in the eye of dumb lawmakers. For example, I wrote last week about a grocer's successful protest against a dumb food law in France. Now something similar is going on in the Ukraine, where a poultry producer is skirting European Union (E.U.) regulations to hilarious effect.

MHP, the Ukrainian poultry producer, has been avoiding idiotic E.U. tariffs dictated under a Ukraine-E.U. trade deal "by exporting an esoteric bony cut of chicken to the bloc tariff-free," reports Britain's Express.

"Under E.U. rules, higher tariffs and restricted import quotas are used to protect [E.U.] farmers from too much competition from imported chicken breasts," the paper reports. The trade deal allows Ukrainian companies to make tariff-free exports of less desirable bone-in chicken. But MHP has been avoiding the tariffs by exporting bone-in chicken to the E.U. and then having the breasts undergo further processing—namely, deboning—once in the E.U. Poultry exports from Ukraine to the E.U. have risen from none at all three years ago to nearly 30,000 tons last year.

This is as side-splitting as it is upsetting to E.U. regulators and farmers. It's also a good reminder that the struggle to improve America's oftentimes lousy food laws is part of a larger effort to fight back against bad laws worldwide.