The UK government has signalled an alarming change of policy on the regulation of the food industry. As reported in the Guardian “Beer companies, confectionery firms and crisp-makers will be asked to fund the government’s advertising campaign to persuade people to switch to a healthier lifestyle and, in return, will not face new legislation outlawing excessively fatty, sugary and salty food,”
This seems like an astonishingly retrograde step, and must be one that the food industry will welcome with open arms. In Europe the food industry has fought every step against increasing the clarity of packaging so that consumers can make really informed choices; to then allow companies to align themselves with healthy lifestyle campaigns will surely only confuse the public further.
As might be expected health campaigners are aghast at this policy, and many of the comments on the Guardian’s website reflect this dismay. Lindsey Davies, the new president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, has called for legal minimum health standards for food if manufacturers won’t do it voluntarily. It seems unlikely that they would. The food industry has consistently attempted to control the debate on its products and hence their ultimate regulation; a paper published in PLoS Medicine in 2007 – “Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles” (which has had more than 27 000 views) concluded that “Industry funding of nutrition-related scientific articles may bias conclusions in favor of sponsors’ products, with potentially significant implications for public health.”
It seems clear that self regulation of the food industry serves no ones’ interest but theirs.