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Lack of concern

City University research slams food industry

Consumer's need to know what's in their food

Some top food companies don’t ‘care a jot’ about tackling the diet-related health crisis, a report claims today.

The report criticises many of the world’s biggest food companies for their ‘luke-warm response’ to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on fighting obesity, cancer and heart disease.

Poor eating habits are estimated to cost the NHS GBP 6 billion a year in treating diet-related disease. And, in the next two years, 440,000 UK children are predicted to become overweight or obese.

But only four companies were taking action to reduce fat, the report says. Five companies were taking action on sugar, and ten out of the 25 international food giants were working to cut salt levels.

Worrying findings

The London City University report (published as a pdf) found only two companies were working to reduce portion sizes while eight of the 25 were taking action to cut artery-clogging trans fats. Kraft was the only company found to be acting on all five issues.

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University, said: ‘The findings…suggest that the world’s food companies are not yet fully engaged with the seriousness and urgency of the demands to tackle diet-related ill-health worldwide.’

The researchers concluded that ‘too many companies appear not to care a jot’, and described their findings as ‘worrying’.

McDonald’s one commitment

To check companies’ policies, experts scrutinised the annual reports, accounts and websites of food manufacturers, retailers and chains serving food to find out whether they were acting on WHO advice. WHO produced a global strategy in May 2004 setting out what companies could do to tackle the diet crises.

But researchers found that, of the 25 companies, less than half had made a commitment to healthier food ranges. Only Cadbury Schweppes, Danone, Nestle and Unilever had any policies on advertising. McDonald’s, which has had a high profile in the diet and health debate, reported no commitments other than on portion sizes.

A spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) which represents UK manufacturers said: ‘If the report’s authors want the food and drink manufacturing industry to take more action on food and health, they are pushing at an open door.’

Michelle Smyth, of Which? Campaigns, said:’As part of our nutrition campaign, Which? has been calling on food manufacturers and retailers for many years to do their bit to help people make healthy food choices. That means cutting fat, sugar and salt in foods, clearer labels and an end to the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt to children.’

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