Leader: Food industry must raise game on diet

The Food and Drink Federation has this week called in PR support to demonstrate it is tackling public concerns over obesity. And not before time.

As the mouthpiece for the British food industry's collective opinion, the FDF has been sluggish in taking a lead on public health, one of the most contentious political issues of recent years. And the industry as a whole has fallen behind the curve of public and political pressure to improve the nation's diet.

As a certain celebrity chef pointed out during his exposé of school dinners, the disturbing scenario that today's children could be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents is now considered a realistic, rather than nightmarish, vision.

The obesity debate is not about to blow over any time soon. Despite some genuine attempts by manufacturers to cut salt and sugar levels in products, the media's appetite for stories linking big food companies with poor public health remains undimmed. As the FDF's deputy director-general Martin Paterson admits: 'We start from a position of distrust.'

Bell Pottinger's PR and public affairs brief will focus initially on the pressing legislative matters of advertising to children and food labelling. According to the FDF it will also aim to 'redress the balance
for an industry that can be portrayed as a pantomime villain'.

One way could be to apply the food industry's undeniable marketing nous to encourage people, particularly children, to eat more healthily.

But such is the public desire now for better food that the industry cannot afford just to be slick at marketing. The hit suffered by Britvic's share price last week on news of declining demand for its fizzy drinks could prove to be a tipping point against any residual complacency within the industry. The bottom line is that food firms need to produce healthier products.

Danny Rogers is away

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