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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Police officers attempt to stop illegal migrants from jumping onto trucks headed for Britain in the northeastern French port of Calais on October 29, 2014  

Tighter security in Calais won’t solve the problem

Nigel Morris
 

Football needs its Martin Luther moment, and soon

Boyd Tonkin
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines