Editor-At-Large: Fat cats of the food industry only want us to eat more and more

The Government is wrong to turn to the giant manufacturers of junk meals for sponsorship of its campaign against obesity
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The Independent Online

Two very rich men (Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft) pledged £250m last week to fund a worldwide anti-smoking campaign. I wonder how that sits with our former Secretary of State for Health, Dr John Reid, who once said that the working class "had every right" to smoke. Smoking kills – and it's generally the poor, rather than the rich, who succumb – and it costs health agencies a fortune.

Although we banned smoking from public places, try walking through our city streets and you have to make detours to avoid the puffers who gather in smoky clusters around every doorway. The Government stopped short of a total ban, but I'm not interested in human rights, having watched my sister die of lung cancer.

Now Dr Reid's successor, Alan Johnson, has turned his attention to fatties, launching "a national movement" to tackle obesity. A three-year health campaign is planned, with television and radio ads, warning labels on food packaging, and sponsored sporting events funded by business (£200m) and government (£75m). But the group of sponsors involved include food and drink manufacturers like Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Kraft and Nestlé – the same people who make choccie bars, sugary drinks, and powdered baby milk, products which one would hardly label health foods. Few of these products would be part of a weight-loss diet, would they?

One of the most insidious things about New Labour is the way they mimicked old-fashioned Tories by allowing big business to be involved right at the heart of sensitive areas of government policy.

Businessmen from all sorts of backgrounds and religious agendas sponsor city academies, as if swanky new buildings guarantee better education. (New academies are no better than old-style schools at actually teaching kids the essentials of reading, writing and arithmetic.)

Supermarkets have been allowed to get involved in the curriculum of cooking – now depressingly known as food technology. In this year's GCSE, pupils were actually asked to design a sandwich. This, at a time when it's obvious that teaching youngsters where food comes from (not necessarily a supermarket), what its nutritional value is (not its packaging), and how to prepare it, will eradicate obesity quicker than anything. But supermarkets aren't really interested in kids learning about cooking from scratch. They want to sell merchandise with the highest profit – and that tends to be ready-made meals.

Alan Johnson says that nothing is to be gained by telling fat people it is all their fault, "not every family can afford to buy fresh organic produce from the farmers' market ... it's easy to stand on the sidelines accusing the impoverished, the fat and the excluded of only having themselves to blame". Clearly a dig at David Cameron, who had the guts to state that each of us must take responsibility for our own weight – and he's right. Mr Johnson misses the point – fresh fruit and vegetables are cheaper than takeaways. Supermarkets charge more for food, and it is the poor who pay more because generally they do not know how to cook. I write this having spent 30 minutes watching people leave the Penzance branch of Tesco in West Cornwall. One in three was horribly overweight, waddling along wheeling pizzas, beer, white bread and ready meals back to the car. A mile up the road in a farm shop you could buy enough produce grown locally to feed a family of four for a week for £30.

Mr Cameron has set the agenda for change, whereas Mr Johnson, by consorting with Mars and Coca-Cola, has zero chance of making any real difference.

Sons left all at sea by their parents’ cruel lies

This weekend Anne Darwin joins her husband John in jail. What a repulsive woman, who deceived her two sons by pretending their dad was dead, in order to fulfil her fantasy of a cushy life in the sun. John might have drawn up all the complicated flow charts about how to move their money to the other side of the world, but Anne went along with it, hook, line and sinker. She pretended in court she was totally in thrall to her husband, but what loving mother treats her flesh and blood in such a cold-hearted way? The real victims were 32-year-old Mark and 29-year-old Anthony, who had to testify against their mum – having committed no crime, they were drawn into their parents' web of lies and exposed to the glare of the press. I just want to give them a hug, and I hope that their friends will be looking after them over the coming weeks. Mark and Anthony would be better off never speaking to their parents again. They deserve better.

Attack of the jellyfish is all our own fault

Whether you're emulating our leaders and opting for a breezy break in the UK, or heading for sun in the Mediterranean, there's something waiting to ruin your holiday. Not mosquitoes, midges, people shouting on their mobile phones on the beach. These bastards are silent but deadly. Jellyfish. Forget about taking a dip on the Côte D'Azur – along a 10-mile stretch near Cannes, coastguards are getting hundreds of calls for help daily from victims who've been stung. Local authorities in Spain have been rounding them up in nets and turning them into fertiliser. But the blighters return in increasing numbers. The reason – over-fishing has killed off their predators, such as tuna and sea turtles. Global warming and pollution has also had an effect. You can't avoid them – last Saturday, fishing for mackerel off Argyll, we were surrounded by orange jellyfish, daring us to take a dip.

Bin those bags for good

I have a dream – I'm floating through a museum 50 years from now admiring a display of those long-extinct items, the plastic shopping bag. Well done to Marks and Spencer, who managed to reduce the number of bags handed out by 80 per cent, by charging 5p for one. Tesco gave out three billion bags last year, Sainsbury's gave out 1.78 billion. They claim it's what customers want. It's been proved that the price war these stores are waging is completely phoney – with our shopping costing at least 20 per cent more than a year ago. Discount supermarkets such as Lidl, Netto and Aldi refuse to give out free plastic bags – and their businesses are booming.

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