Martin Hickman: Mr Lansley, junk food and idiocy

Share
Related Topics

In the 1998 film Bulworth, Warren Beatty's wayward Senator loses his mind and reveals how US politics is bankrolled by big corporations. While not matching the Hollywood actor's looks, the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, seems similarly to have taken leave of his senses in a series of announcements that have astonished commentators by their rapidity and foolishness.

The difference is that this former private secretary to Norman Tebbit has not been railing against corporations. Instead, he has been embedding their views in policy.

While other coalition ministers are making plans to protect the public from rogue banks and energy giants, Mr Lansley has been fending off proposals to tackle the junk-food giants. Campaigners began to realise something was afoot on 16 June when, with his support, Conservative MEPs killed off traffic-light labelling, which exposes hidden salt, fat and sugar. By doing so, his party went against the advice of the British Medical Association, the British Dietetic Association, the British Heart Foundation and dozens of other health and consumer groups.

A week later the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence published a plan to prevent 40,000 deaths from heart disease, calling for a ban on trans fats, no TV junk-food advertising before 9pm and restrictions on takeaways close to schools. The British Heart Foundation, the Faculty of Public Health and the Royal College of Physicians supported those proposals. Yet the Department of Health rejected them outright on the day of publication, saying that people should just eat better and exercise more. On 30 June, Mr Lansley ridiculed Jamie Oliver's campaign on school dinners, saying it had been a flop, and a week later scrapped £75m of funding for the Change4Life anti-obesity campaign, for which he appealed for funding from... makers of fatty foods.

This week Mr Lansley was waving his axe at the Food Standards Agency, set up 10 years ago following the last Conservative government's cover-up of BSE and which devised the traffic-light system on food that would have hit junk-food sales. Though still awaiting the results of a review of "arm's length bodies", Mr Lansley intends to hand the FSA's role on public health to the Department of Health. While admittedly too timid with food firms, the FSA has saved thousands of lives by cajoling them into reformulating products. Jack Winkler, nutrition professor at London Metropolitan University, described its salt campaign as "the single best nutrition policy in the UK since the Second World War".

Throughout, Mr Lansley has parroted the junk-food industry's line that there is no such thing as bad food, only a bad diet. There is some truth to this: people must take responsibility for what they eat. But the mantra ignores the forces arrayed against healthy-eating. Manufacturers spend hundreds of millions of pounds promoting addictive and enticing fatty and sugary brands – against Change4Life's £25m-a-year budget; most labelling hides the unhealthiness of these high-margin products, and supermarkets promote them far more aggressively than they do fresh produce.

Some wonder if Mr Lansley has been nobbled by lobbyists. He mentioned Unilever while opposing traffic-light labelling. Private Eye suggests that Lucy Neville-Rolfe, head of corporate affairs at Tesco, advises him. Yet the Electoral Commission has no record of substantial donations to the Conservative Party from multinational food firms. We must assume the Secretary of State really believes that public health professionals are incompetent.

At almost no public cost, he could have slimmed a corpulent industry that has made most people look as if they have been inflated with air through their belly button. Instead, we will all be paying the hospital bill for obesity for decades to come.

m.hickman@independent.co.uk

For further reading

'Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease' by Nice (guidance.nice.org.uk/PH25)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis