McDonald's, PepsiCo and KFC are to help write British health policy

mcdonalds-smlDepartment of Health putting fast food companies at heart of policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I did check the date: It is NOT April 1st, thus it cannot be an April Fools. On the other hand, a John McEnroe term comes to mind. Yes, the famous one of 'You cannot be serious'. Alas, it would appear that they are.

The British “Department of Health” is putting the fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart, pardon the pun, of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease.

If it would not be such a serious issue I'd be laughing and I guess so would everyone else as it is so absolutely stupid, ludicrous and ridiculous that it is fit for a comedy. This is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five "responsibility deal" networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month. Thus it would appear that someone is going to be putting the security of the hen house in the capable paws of the fox.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. As I have already said, if it would not be such a serious matter one could but laugh, mistaking this as a comedy.

Working alongside those are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health.

The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal's sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal's physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

One can but wonder, methinks, as to where some politicians have their brains and how many get a good backhander out of some of those deals.

In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches, and to support them in removing obstacles. Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out. One group was told that the health department did not want to lead, but rather hear from its members what should be done.

While public interest groups are taking part in drawing up the deals, many have argued that robust regulation is needed to deal with junk food and alcohol misuse.

Instead of listening to the experts in public health the government has decided to listen to industry and thus allow those that make money out of the sales of this or that not very healthy product to make policy. In the same way the food labeling was done according to what industry wanted rather than the warning traffic light which was asked for by the experts.

I am beginning to wonder when the government is going to put the security of the realm into the capable hands of the likes of the FSB and maybe even the Taliban and Al-Qaeda?

According to a spokesman government wanted to improve public health through voluntary agreements with business and other partners, rather than through regulation or top-down lectures because it believed this approach would be far more effective and ambitious than previous efforts.

While big government, such as what Labor wanted, is not a good idea neither is this way of running things. There must be a balance and we cannot allow them to do what seem to be happening in the USA where the FDA, amongst others, seems to be owned, lock, stock and barrel by lobbying groups.

© 2010