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Public health: Food manufacturers have ‘moral responsibility’ warns MP

Author : Chris Shaw

23 January 2013

Anna Soubry MP, Parliament Under Secretary of State for Public Health, has warned that unless the UK’s food and drink industry takes more responsibility for public health, then the government may have to resort to legislation.

Soubry made the announcement at Delivering Healthy Growth, an event organised by the Food and Drink Federation.

Addressing food and drink manufacturers, Soubry warned that England has amongst the highest levels of obesity in Europe and some of the lowest levels of physical activity.

“The scale of the problem is vast,” she said. “Around 70,000 premature deaths could be avoided each year if UK diets matched nutritional guidelines. The costs of overweight and obesity on society were £16billion in 2007, potentially rising to £50bn a year by 2050 if left unchecked.”

While Soubry believes the primary responsibility lies with the individual’s choice to buy healthily – in particular parents, she warned that food manufacturers and retailers should also become more active. “Public health is everybody’s responsibility and we’ll only succeed if we work together. We agree that everyone must take responsibility for their own choices, but research points to the powerful role of the environment in shaping individual behaviour. That is where you have a vital role to play.

“I am encouraged that many in the industry have taken action. The Change4Life movement is strongly supported by FDF members, and we welcome further support. However, some companies are not engaged at all. That has to change! I do not want to regulate, I know the dangers of legislation, I want to work with organisations to ensure a healthier nation, which is provided with more information. I know it sounds threatening, but we are where we are. For example, I am not in favour of a ban in certain amounts of sugar in children’s cereal.”

Soubry asserted that manufacturers and retailers have a ‘moral responsibility’, especially those that have brands respected by the public. “Many companies have joined organisations such as the Public Health Responsibility Deal, but I want more to join, as it’s not fair on the other businesses that have taken up the burden. I want industry to take responsibility, but if this is not working, then we may have to resort to legislation. I don’t want that.”

The minister added that both manufacturers and retailers needed to go further and foster a new ‘calorie consciousness’ to enable ongoing change by industry to help reverse the upward trend in obesity. “The achievements of some rightly deserve praise, but if we are to succeed in the long-term action needs to be universal,” she said.

“FDF members have a strong track record on workplace well-being and many, as Responsibility Deal partners, are committed to improving employee health. The evidence clearly shows that having a healthy, engaged workforce produces significant benefits – not only for employees but for business – including improved quality and better productivity.”

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