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Your right to poor health and obesity is secured under the Tories

July 12, 2010

I once began a lecture to a group of first years with a recipe for lentil soup. I learned in a seminar that their typical fare was pizza and beer and I am of the opinion that good intellectual health is dependent upon a nutritious diet. It seems, however, that Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, disagrees.

A couple of weeks ago he dismissed Saint Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthy school meals, saying it was time to stop hectoring people about their lifestyles. “If we are constantly lecturing people and trying to tell them what to do, we will actually find that we undermine and are counterproductive in the results that we achieve”. People, he told the British Medical Association, have to take responsibility for their own health.

Now I’m all for people taking responsibility for themselves but taking responsibility also means having access to the sort of information that allows them to make informed choices. So why is it reported that Andrew Lansley is planning to abolish the Food Standards Agency (FSA)?

Well, maybe it has something to do with the fact that the FSA came up with a pretty nifty way of helping consumers make informed choices about the food they ate. It was called the ‘traffic light’ system and the food industry hated it, for it would have obliged them to display on their packaging accessible and easy to understand information about the sugar, fat or salt content in their products.

The food industry pleaded. It said that such a system would discriminate against the manufactures of foods with inherently high fat, sugar or salt content, like cheese, for instance, which would have to carry a ‘red light’ for its fat content. Now, forgive me, but consumers may sometimes be ignorant (God knows the food industry would like to keep them that way) but they are not stupid. If you don’t already know that cheese is substantially fat then you are probably to young to be shopping for yourself yet.

Speaking personally, as someone who believes that a calorie is a unit by which to measure how good any food is likely to taste, I might sometimes seek out the product with the red light for sugar or fat, because (and lets be frank) what sort of sadist buys low-fat cake? Like low alcohol beer, low-fat cake is not only oxymoronic, it’s just wrong on so many levels.

Anyway, what the traffic lights would have exposed were all those foods that pose as ‘healthy options’ but conceal large amounts of something-or-other that their manufactures would rather not confess to; like that low fat yogurt with the sugar content that would make a bag of boiled sweets blush, or that benign looking box of cereal with more salt in it than the Dead Sea.

Would such information on food packaging leave you feeling hectored or lectured at? Would you feel that it was an infringement upon your freedom of choice?

The logic of food industry and Lansley is perverse, unless understood as nothing more and nothing less than an attempt to free up an unscrupulous food industry to sell whatever the likes to ill-informed consumers.

The announcement that the FSA will be scrapped comes on the heals of news last week that Lansley is planning to ask beer companies, confectionery firms and crisp-makers to fund the government’s advertising campaign to persuade people to switch to a healthier lifestyle. In return, the industry will not face new legislation outlawing excessively fatty, sugary and salty food.

Oh, and did I mention that Andrew Lansley’s private office received £21,000 from Charles Nash, chairman of Care UK? The Telegraph reported in January that ‘Mr Nash, a private equity tycoon, also manages several other businesses providing services to the NHS and stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Conservative policies to increase the use of private health providers.’

So, getting rid of the FSA will not only please Andrew’s friends in the food industry, one of his benefactors stands to do rather well out the nation’s failing health.

And just by way of a P.S. I love this comment from a reader of the news at Reuters:

Good riddance. I am sick and tired of being hectored about what I should eat. It simply isn’t the government’s job to interfere in private dietary choices. And what is more, it isn’t in the national interest to increase life expectancy still further, when funding old age is becoming a national crisis.

Maybe he’s being ironic… it’s just so hard to tell these days.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2010 9:45 am

    The Reuters quote is priceless, Rab, and an interesting “lapse” in TV news objectivity from an organisation run by Thomson Reuters, which also trades in healthcare, health research and pharmaceuticals. So of course they’d hate a quango like the FSA because a healthy population on a sensible diet is just bad for business.

    As for the fate of the FSA itself, it won’t be the only one. CamClegg Inc aims to shrink the public sector to the bare minimum it can get away with. I fear SkillSet might be next.

    I better go now. I’m just too upset to continue.

  2. Mike permalink
    July 13, 2010 11:34 am

    What i reckon is more underhanded on nutritional info is the misleading portion sizes on which the RDA content is based.

    Often the nutritional info is based on abstract portion sizes that mislead people into thinking the food is healthier than it actually is.

    Oddly enough it’s often the supermarkets’ own brand products which have the clearest and most accurate nutritional info.

  3. Rabelais permalink*
    July 13, 2010 3:42 pm

    Welcome Mike. And an important point about how people are mislead by portion sizes.

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