Food and drink companies are using the same dodgy tactics as tobacco companies to protect profits, leading experts warn
- Report says global firms are using sneaky tactics that jeopardise health
- Include lobbying governments to block health regulations against junk food
- Other methods include distorting research findings and paying large sums of money to form close relationships with health bodies
PUBLISHED: 08:26 EST, 12 February 2013 | UPDATED: 12:57 EST, 12 February 2013
Food, drink and alcohol companies are employing tactics used by the tobacco industry to get around public health policies aimed at reducing obesity and other health problems, warn researchers
Leading food, drink and alcohol companies are employing tactics used by the tobacco industry to get around public health policies aimed at reducing obesity and other health problems, a damning report has claimed.
By cosying up to health professionals and paying large amounts of money to affiliate themselves with leading health bodies, they are managing to avoid being regulated in the manner in which they should, say public health researchers.
Other tactics include lobbying governments to block health regulations and distorting research findings, the report in The Lancet said.
Lead author Rob Moodie, professor of public health at the University of Melbourne, told MailOnline that through the aggressive marketing of processed food and drink, multinational companies were now major drivers of the obesity crisis and chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
He said: ‘There is now evidence to show that the food, drink and alcohol industries use similar tactics to the tobacco companies to undermine public health interventions.’
The report found that the ten largest global companies now control more than 15 per cent of all food sales – and the majority of these comprise of unhealthy food such as fizzy drinks, pizzas and burgers.
They are increasingly reliant on low-income countries for their growth due to the saturation of the Western market.
He added that the findings of the report showed that self-regulation of the industry was failing and it was time the industry had stringent independent regulation.
Professor Moodie said industry documents had revealed how companies seek to shape health legislation and avoid regulation.
‘One example we found was that the brewer SAB Miller and The International Centre for Alcohol Policies assisted the Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, and Bostwana Governments to write their national alcohol control policies,’ he said.
Sales of unhealthy foods have soared in developing countries, which are the key growth area for many manufacturers
‘It was found that the four draft National Alcohol Policy documents were almost identical in wording and structure and that they are likely to originate from the same source and were designed to “serve the industry’s interests at the expense of public health’.
Professor Moodie added that published research that had been funded by industry had a ‘systematic bias’.
‘We found that articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies were between four and eight times more likely to have conclusions that favoured the companies than those not sponsored by them,’ he said.
Another tactic used by global companies is lobbying politicians to oppose health reforms. He cited the case of Coca Cola in France, which he claims lobbied the government against any negative health regulation.
The researchers said through soaring sales of processed food and drink, multinational companies were now major drivers of the world’s growing epidemic of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes
He said that measures where manufacturers responsible for regulating themselves (in terms of nutrition and marketing) had little effect on reducing the health effects of these foods.
‘Regulation, or the threat of regulation, is the only way to change these transnational corporations,’ he said.
Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol to Britain’s Royal College of Physicians said the findings were ‘a final nail in the coffin’ of the idea that involving the alcohol industry in public health measures could work.
‘Any government serious about public health should in future divorce its public health activities from industry involvement’, said Dr Gilmore in a statement.
Responding to the study’s criticisms, UNESDA, which represents the non-alcoholic drinks industry in Europe, said experts recognise obesity has many causes including diet, lack of exercise, genetics and lack of nutritional knowledge.
The researchers said, however, that their evidence showed this collaborative approach had failed. They recommended that, in future, food, drinks and tobacco firms should have no role in national or international policies on chronic diseases.
Instead, they proposed a system of ‘public regulation’ which they said would focus on directly pressuring industry by ‘raising awareness of their shady practices and maintaining active public pressure’.
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