Food companies’ power far outweighs Government in bringing about any change in people’s eating habits and buying decisions.
While the Government was already working to limit the multi-billion pound industry’s hold on consumers, with measures such as bringing in a 9pm television watershed for unhealthy food advertisements and a manufacturer’s tax on sugary drinks, legislation could only go so far.
Debating the findings of the recently published EAT-Lancet report, which was billed as a global framework for achieving healthy diets but was criticised by the farming industry and some academics for being ‘flawed’ and ’misguided’ Alison Tedstone, Public Health England, said: “Changing dietary recommendations does not change the diet of a nation.
“We need to think beyond telling people what to do.”
The EAT-Lancet report proposed a dramatic cut in red meat consumption and a switch to vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and poultry which it said would benefit human health and the environment.
Dr Tedstone criticised the guide which she said fell short of vitamin D requirements, adding there was too much focus on agriculture.
“Yes think about agriculture, but also think about the rest of the food chain. Agriculture is only a small portion,” she told the event in London.
“The majority of it is in manufacturing, retail and increasingly, the out of home sector. What used to be treats are now everyday events. That is not because of dietary requirements but because of economic drivers that are pushing us towards buying too much.”
She said the Government was often dealing with ‘conflicting pressures’, with food being the biggest employer in the UK next to the public sector.
Food campaigner and journalist Baroness Rosie Boycott agreed access to food, often the unhealthiest, had never been easier. There was a danger this ‘disastrous Western diet’ could be exported across the world.
However, she noted it cost more to eat from recommended diets such as Eat-Lancet and the Government’s Eastwell plate.
“I would like to ban all advertising for unhealthy food – if I could,” said Baroness Boycott.
She also highlighted the power of major food and drink firms and the pressure of ‘doing the right thing for their shareholders’.
The event was organised by the The RSA Food, Farming & Countryside Commission.