Sunday, February 27, 2011


Nutritionally unbalanced foods churned out by the processed food industry with more focus on sugar and fat to enhance sensory pleasure to the consumer are more or less acknowledged as the major culprit in the obesity epidemic that is rampant in some wealthy countries. Impartial observers have come to the conclusion that the industry needs to concede that it is to be blamed for "seducing" the consumer through many deceptive promotional activities. One such practice is to lace blatantly unhealthy foods containing high levels of sugar and fat with nutrients like vitamins and minerals and push them into the market as healthy foods. As many consumers are aware of the importance of vitamins and minerals in maintaining good health, they are naturally attracted to these foods unaware of the long term damage these energy rich foods can do to their health. This must be stopped at any cost if the world is to be saved from the unmitigated disaster from these foods.

"Vitamins and minerals can be added to most cereals, allowing them to be marketed as healthy, no matter how much sugar, fat or salt they contain. And they can be added to drinks, as long as they contain less than 75 grams of sugar per litre - about three-quarters of the sugar content of Coca-Cola. But as most Australians are already getting enough nutrients in their diets, it is the manufacturers - who use them to promote their products - that benefit most from minerals and vitamins being added to food. ''Unfortunately, too often it is the marketing goals of a food manufacturer rather than health concerns that explain why many breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals,'' says Mark Lawrence, associate professor at Deakin University's school of exercise and nutrition sciences. ''It is often the most highly processed sugary and salty breakfast cereals that are most heavily marketed to children, and the marketing approach appears to be that if you sprinkle some nutrients on them they can masquerade as a healthy food,'' he says. So as the nation grows dangerously fat, who is to blame? Consumer and health experts say that when it comes to decisions about laws governing what we eat, food industry demands for ''innovation'' and marketing opportunities have at times trumped warnings about health. Australia's food industry wields a mighty influence. It employs more than 315,000 people, and is the nation's biggest manufacturing sector. It also boasts one of the nation's most effective industry lobby groups, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, which is headed by former pharmacist and ACT chief minister Kate Carnell. It is based in Canberra just down the road from Parliament House and around the corner from the national food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Webs of influence criss-cross industry-funded food bodies, universities and government-backed food regulators. It is not unusual for people to work for all three simultaneously. Meanwhile, consumers - time-poor and budget-conscious - are left in the dark, as decisions are made behind closed doors about what goes into the food they eat, and what information they are given about it. Food in Australia is cheap, plentiful and - from a hygiene point of view - overwhelmingly safe to eat. But something, somewhere, has gone wrong. One in three Australian adults is overweight, one in four is obese, and the rising toll of lifestyle-related diseases means that today's teenagers may have a shorter lifespan than their parents".

Though the above situation is reported from Australia, the scenario is not much different in many other countries with high per capita income. In any debate that touches on the above problem the rights of the industry to cater to the needs of the consumer always pops up and it is a potentially divisive issue unless the government, industry and the consumer community have a consensus. Unfortunately the industry does not work for charity and being investors they have every right to work for ensuring reasonable returns on their capital. What is possible is to moderate the profit objective to accommodate the sound principles of consumer welfare. This is possible only if industry works on a common platform, shunning bad foods collectively and promoting only sound foods based on a frame work of guidelines arrived at by consensus. Government "stick" to force a solution must be the last resort if industry does not self-discipline itself.


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