Food Companies Won't Commit to Voluntary Public Health Pledges

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A new report just out from the Children's Food Campaign of Sustain, a food advocacy group in the U.K., says that its government's Responsibility Deal with the food industry about marketing practices is good for food companies but not so effective for public health.

The report finds that the U.K. government's Responsibility Deal is "likely to fail because industry commitments are weak, voluntary, and ignored by numerous big food companies."

The U.K. Coalition Government launched its Public Health Responsibility Deal in March 2011. This covered five areas -- food, alcohol, physical activity, health in the workplace, and behavior change.

The core of the Deal is voluntary partnership with industry.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley promised industry that the Deal would be "built on social responsibility, not state regulation." Instead, government would promote personal responsibility for health choices and voluntary agreements with companies.

Predictably, the report lists 33 national food companies that have failed to commit to one or more voluntary pledges on:

  • 'out of home' calorie labelling (including Costa, Pizza Express, and Subway)
  • salt reduction (including Burger King, KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Wimpy)
  • artificial trans fat removal (including Harvester, Wetherspoons, and Sodexo)

It also lists 13 well-known companies, including Birds Eye, Budgens, Domino's Pizza, and Nandos that failed to sign up to any health pledges at all.

The campaign concludes: "food pledges are underwhelming."

So much for voluntary partnerships and alliances. Nobody should be surprised.

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This post also appears on Food Politics.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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