Food industry free to feed us what they like

My concern about this recent study is not so much that our fast food has more salt than other countries, but that our food industry has such unconstrained power to influence our diets.

The Food Industry Group’s position to maintain a self regulatory approach to levels of salt, sugar and fat in our food is obviously failing New Zealanders, hurting our health and costing us. The Auckland DHB have estimated that cardiovascular disease costs the country between $602 and $812 million every year and it is our second leading cause of death.

The UK Government have set specific targets for the industry to reach in terms of reducing salt and have been working with industry to help achieve these reductions. It doesn’t seem fair that it is easier for British people to hake healthier choices than it is for us New Zealanders.

I don’t think that our health should be left in the sole charge of the industry; our Government should follow the UK model and work with industry to set targets for reformulation of products.

22 Comments Posted

  1. Intresting Article, today most of the decision we make it comes down to the $$ value and time. Eating good it is really hard for some people.

  2. I agree that people make their own (not always concious) choices. I wonder what underpins those choices? What habits do kids learn & perpetuate that lead to bad health outcomes from cigarette smoking, bad diet & abuse of substances seen in their homes & communities? We need a both/and response, not either/or. Let people who can make healthy choices be free to do so, in the full knowledge that they are educated & empowerd enough to look after themselves & their children. Let there be education programs & discouragement, through taxation if necessary for those who don’t or can’t understand the damage they may be doing to themselves & their children. Personal responsibility is a great thing, assuming it has been internalised during the growing up period. You can’t use what you don’t have. To ignore this is to punish children for the supposed sins of their parents. We must protect the coming generations; this requires us to stop seeing the issue only through our own eyes & broaden our perspectives. The bigger the perspective, the more opportunity for creative change that serves a larger group of people.

  3. There is a reason that Fast Food is regarded as convenient and I don’t think it has anything to do with knowing what it has in it! Is labelling really going to solve anything?? I don’t think anyone is under any illusions when they buy these foods that they are buying something healthy. Do we really want to complicate the food-industry anymore?
    It should be about promoting healthy lifestyles that are accessible and realistic for everyone in society, not just those who have the time and interest to read and understand food labels. Government intervention is the most obvious way, not to tell people what to eat or to reduce liberties, but to encourage different habits and lifestyles. There needs to be a catalyst for change. This doesn’t mean the government should or would completely control what we eat, but decreasing the availability and convenience of real ‘killer’ foods can hardly be seen as a bad thing! The food industry should be obliged to adhere to a certain standard of quality as many other industries are. The food industry needs pressure to increase quality!!

  4. Most people know how to eat healthily and how to eat to kill themselves. It isn’t rocket science and it is patronising and insulting to treat the public as children for not making the choices that you see as right.

    The “unconstrained power” to influence our diets ignores that consumers have unconstrained power to not buy anything that is on sale by anyone. The problem is two fold:

    – You socialise the costs of people’s poor choices by requiring everyone to pay for the health costs of people who are ill because of lifestyle choices;

    – You don’t like it that people don’t actually want to be as healthy as you think they should be.

    Plenty of people eat fast food, eat chocolate, drink a lot, because they WANT to. They get pleasure from that, hedonistic pleasure that you want to tax them for and berate them for.

    People’s health is not in the sole charge of the industry, that’s an insult to every adult and presumes they are like children easily swayed by advertising, too stupid to know better and when they make bad choices, they should pay for it.

    The health care costs are exactly what happens when you embrace a state health care system that means people get no price signals at all about their decisions. There are many risks people take in life around health, such as diet, drinking, smoking, drug use, sedentery lifestyle, contact sports, use of non-prescription medicines, sexual behaviour and the like which mean some people cost taxpayers a fortune, others not a lot. Similarly, some people pay vast amounts in taxes and get little back, others are the opposite. Socialised medicine means simply that you accept these subsidies and transfers as “ok”, rather than pick on some, for the issue becomes “when do you stop” because every one you pick on, means there are losers as well as winners. A fat tax would create losers among everyone who consumes such foods and does not get cardio-vascular disease.

    Cardio-vascular disease is, in part, about diet. It is also about exercise, genetics, stress and smoking. The state taxes smoking to buggery, so what’s left? A bunch of risk factors that ought to send people signals of what they can do if they are at high risk. Someone who is physically fit, with low genetic risk and low stress may have a low risk of cardio-vascular disease, so can happily eat more fat, sugar and salt than someone who is. However, you’ll never send that signal through taxing some foods.

    By contrast, if people had insurance accounts, Singapore style, with those on low incomes topped up by the state, that included free annual check ups to screen for diseases and meant they paid more if they increased their risk factors (e.g. obesity, smoking, poor physical fitness) and less if they reduced them, it could make a profound difference.

    The food marketplace is open. There are providers that sell all sorts of healthy food, indeed the entire sector is so dynamic there are new providers coming and going all the time. People buy what they like and want. You can either respect adults making decisions based on their own values and judgment (and even enter the market yourself to offer alternatives) or you can say you know best, and tell them what to do by one means or another. If you do the latter, don’t be surprised if a lot of people tell you to mind your own business in colourful language.

  5. To be honest I would rather the food industry decided what to sell rather than a Marxist who is [Frog: deleted. Offensive.]

  6. samiuela – I am not equating melamine with salt, fat or sugar. Melamine and the like should be (and are) regulated out. I am suggesting that salt, sugar and fat should be clearly labelled and taxed, not banned completely.


  7. My National party supporter comment was directed at photonz1.

    Supermarkets make super profits from people who are trying to eat healthy diets .

    And I still dont hear any rational or logical arguments against proper food regulations and higher tax on unhealthy crap food.

    If you cause damage its only fair you pay the cost.

    … and we effectively have a “health tax on ciggies and booze”

    Its time we had one for coca-cola, because we all pay when some-one develops diabetes.

    Its common sense .

  8. Trevor29,

    You can’t equate melamine with salt, fat and sugar. One should not be in food full stop, the others have been used in food in one form or another for thousands of years. I fully support accurate and clear labeling, so that I can make an informed choice about what I eat, but I object to someone telling me I cannot put Marmite on my toast (if I can get it!) because it is too salty.

  9. Given that the state picks up the costs of most problems caused by bad food via the health system, ACC and WINZ, regulation has its place in the food industry. We should not be exposed to seriously unhealthy food (e.g. contaminated with melamine or pesticide residues) and it certainly makes sense to have clear labeling identifying the not quite as seriously unhealthy food. Taxing unhealthy food to pay for the eventual costs to the state also makes sense, and would encourage suppliers to reduce salt, fat and sugar levels in the general offerings. However it wouldn’t stop suppliers offering high salt/fat/sugar foods at a price to those that wanted them.

    It also makes sense to me to encourage suppliers to make the foods less unhealthy in other ways. Why shouldn’t the soft drink manufacturers be encouraged to include some of the vitamins in their soft drinks that would normally be found in fruit drinks or real fruit that would often have been replaced by those soft drinks in the consumer’s diet?


  10. nznative,

    Healthy eating can be expensive, but it need not be. The expense of healthy eating is a myth which has only arisen with the demise of people cooking at home. It isn’t helped by New Zealander’s like of huge quantities of meat either.

    I’m not advocating a vegetarian diet (although this is one good way to go if one wants cheap and healthy food). I’m just saying that it is bullshit that one cannot eat cheaply and healthily.

    I too do not like that the biggest profits the supermarket makes are on fresh food, but this still doesn’t mean they are the most expensive, if one chooses appropriately.

    By the way, I am not a National supporter; my political views are probably as far from those of National’s as it is possible to get. There is a role for state regulation, but it doesn’t extend to what we eat.

  11. The ‘food industry’ in the case of supermarkets make healthy eating expensive.

    They load up their biggest profit margins on what should be the staples of a good diet.

    Proper regulation and taxation of unhealthy food is so obvious its surprising anyone including even national supporters would argue against it.

    How much melamine do you want in your milk ?????

  12. Well, the truth is I don’t really know, in full, what the hell I’m sticking down my throat when I go to the supermarket or some salt and fat-loaded takeaway joint.

    I certainly believe there is a place for the government to help me out with a food police role, and advance good advice and transparency. And also outlaw stuff that is just too dodgy.

    I would also like to see a fully independent NZ research body on food and nutrition.

  13. Mojo says “I don’t think that our health should be left in the sole charge of the industry;”

    With all due respect, what planet are you on to think that my health is in “sole charge of the industry”

    If I drink so much coke that at just 30 years old, ALL of my teeth have rotted away and my dentist says I’m drinking too much coke, but I continue to drink it anyway – then in my book, having no teeth has been a subtle warning that I’m not making the best healthy choices.

  14. nznative,

    If I walk into the supermarket I can buy myself ingredients for a healthy meal for less than the unhealthy processed or prepackaged options. Sure, I won’t be eating fancy or out-of season food; it will be basic but nutritious. Water out of the tap will always be cheaper than Coca-Cola, no matter what discount the supermarket has on it.

    So the fact that food distribution and retail may be dominated by a couple of companies is not affecting my ability to eat healthily if I choose to. Maybe the duopoly is a bad thing, but that is a separate issue from the issue of regulation of ingredients in food.

    If I go to KFC or McDonalds, I don’t expect a healthy meal (although in theory one could eat a semi-OK meal at some fast food places); indeed the good taste of the KFC is likely because of all the grease and salt. But, and this is important, I do not need to go to takeaway outlets at all in order to survive; I go occasionally for a special (unhealthy) treat.

  15. The food industry certainly does feed most of us.

    We have two main companys owning our supermarkets.

    Take-aways are dominated by big franchise chains.

    Its common senses that unhealthy crap should be taxed more and its what we already do with smokes and booze.

    At present our supermarkets discount and have low profit margins on items like booze and coca-cola while they have high profit margins on healthy food items like fruit and vege’s.

    Thats the food industry for you.

  16. The food industry does not feed us, we feed ourselves. Provided there is clear and accurate labeling we should be free to eat what we like. It is our responsibility what we eat.

    It’s not like it is hard to find affordable, healthy food. Rather than regulating, put the money into health education at schools, cooking lessons and so on. And in any case, the _occasional_ KFC, lamb flaps, corned beef etc is not going kill us.

  17. Food should be properly labeled and unhealthy high suger/salt/fat foods should be taxed more…….Someones gotta pay for all that diabetes, heart-attacks etc, and it should be those who profit from creating the diseases in the first place.

  18. No thanks. I would like to continue to choose for myself what I want to eat without someone thinking they know what’s best for me. How about we follow the uk government’s model for offshore oil drilling instead?

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