The 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 of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.
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.
The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them 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.
Campaign groups have criticised the move as an impossible alliance between big business and public health, likening it to placing the tobacco industry in charge of smoke-free spaces.
Each network will be co-chaired by ministers to come up with policies in an overhaul of public health policy, reported The Guardian. Some are expected to be contained in the public health white paper due in the next few weeks.
Mr Lansley’s reforms are seen as a test case for Tory policies on replacing state intervention with private and corporate action.
Working alongside the networks will be consumer and public health groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health.
The networks, which are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, have been asked to suggest measures to tackle obesity and alcohol and diet-related issues.
Another network aims to change behaviour, and is chaired by the National Heart Forum, while the physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association.
The alcohol network is chaired by the head of the lobby group Wine and Spirit Trade Association.
Leading liver specialist Sir Ian Gilmore has agreed to become a member of the alcohol network. However, he is concerned that the union of industry and public health may prove unworkable.
He questioned whether there can be ‘a meaningful convergence between the interests of industry and public health since the priority of the drinks industry was to make money for shareholders while public health demanded a cut in consumption’.
‘On alcohol there is undoubtedly a need for regulation on price, availability and marketing and there is a risk that discussions will be deflected away from regulation that is likely to be effective but would affect sales,’ he added.
‘On food labelling we have listened too much to the supermarkets rather than going for traffic lights calorie system which health experts recommend.’
It is a view shared by the food campaign group Sustain. Organisation head Jeanette Longfield told The Guardian: ‘This is the equivalent of putting the tobacco industry in charge of smoke-free spaces.
‘We know this “let’s all get round the table approach” doesn’t work, because we’ve all tried it before, including the last Conservative government. This isn’t “big society”, it’s big business.’