Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - Who should be in charge?

In a recent decision by the UK Health Secretary, the Food Standards Agency will be subsumed into the Department of Health, causing worry among groups concerned about whether this is an act of concession for the food industry.  It is important to remember that this agency is relatively new: it was created in 2000 to address the standards in the meat packing industry related to BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.)  Interestingly, the FSA is a relatively independent organization, making its decisions at open, public board meetings.

The FSA website shows similarities to our own USDA, but with express directives related to food and health.  For instance, this salt  in bread calculator offers artisan bakers not only a way to measure the amount of salt in their final product - but also a specific goal of how much salt they should be using.  In 2004, they released an action plan to set standards on advertising food to children, something that remains controversial in the US.

So is the answer to allow food companies to regulate themselves, as has been suggested will be the result of this subsumation?  Recent attacks by food companies on health initiatives suggest that they will continue to promote unhealthy products as long as they are profitable.  For instance, when the Institute of Medicine suggested limits on salt in processed foods,  instead of creating an action plan to address limits, Cargill hired Food-TV personality Alton Brown to market and promote salt.  Lobbyists abound at the Institute of Medicine's 2009 conference to discuss the Child Nutrition Act.  In the UK, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (who is proposing to disband the FSA) has promised not to regulate junk food, but instead mounted a food-lobby-funded advertising campaign, raising concerns of a conflict of interest.  In the US, Food-lawyer Jonathan Emord has been hired by the food industry to oppose the FDA's requirement of product-specific substantiation - a requirement that food companies offer scientific studies to back marketing health claims.

***Don't forget - four more days to enter your recipe in the Blogger Secret Ingredient Contest!***

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