By Simon JenkinsFood companies and their staff have long been used as a tool by government and corporations to gain political or economic influence.
Now, in a series of revelations, it seems that some of these companies are using their influence to undermine public trust in food.
A new report from the Food Industry Group (FIg) looks at how the food and drink industry is working with government, private industry, and food and agriculture companies to undermine the reputation of the food that people actually eat.
It also looks at why the food industries are using the internet to spread disinformation and misrepresent food and its suppliers.
The report is based on data obtained by FOI and published by the Food and Drink Federation in May 2017.
It was commissioned by FOF to examine the way the food, drink and food packaging industry is lobbying and influencing public opinion in relation to the food they produce and sell.
FIg is a UK-based research and advocacy organisation that provides advice on food and beverage issues and is supported by a wide range of industry groups.
The FOI documents show that many of these industries are working to undermine what the public is eating, and are doing so with the help of the likes of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Food Safety Authority (FSAA), the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), the National Health Service (NHS), the Australian Government, and the Department of Health.
In particular, the FOI findings show that food and food advertising is a major driver of the UK food industry’s lobbying activities.
In fact, in 2017, food advertising accounted for 14.9 per cent of total lobbying by the food marketing industry in the UK.
FIFA’s data shows that food industry lobbyists have been using their considerable influence in the food media and advertising industries to undermine consumers’ trust in the product and to support their political and economic agendas.
Food industry interests have been at the forefront of this campaign.
In addition to FOI’s findings, the report reveals that some industry groups have been actively working with the FSA to influence food regulation.
“Food advertising and public health campaigns have been a key driver of this government’s anti-food and anti-consumers agenda,” said James Rennie, FAO Deputy Director for Food Policy.
“Food and beverage marketing has been a driving force behind this agenda.
Food advertising and the FSA’s anti‐food propaganda campaigns have undermined the public’s confidence in the safety of food and beverages and in the quality of the products we consume.”
Food industries also have been making an impact on government policy.
FOF identified four areas where the food lobby had been working on food policy issues: food safety; food labeling; food price; and food marketing.
“While this report is focused on food marketing and public policy, it highlights the importance of the industries lobbying and public relations activities to influence public policy,” said Renno.
“These industries and their supporters are pushing government policies that will further restrict access to safe food and undermine public confidence in food.”
One industry group is also working to promote its own products in the media and online.
The Royal College, which represents over 50,000 people working in the nutrition, health and social care sectors, was a key player in the FAO report.
Its chief executive, Dr James Moore, was also a major contributor to the FOG report, and he commented on the importance food companies had in influencing government policies: “The food industry is a key partner in the fight against food waste.
FOG has long recognised that food marketing is a driving factor behind the food waste crisis.
But, to be effective, the food sector must be able to engage with government and to communicate to the public about food and what it is good for.”
Fruit and vegetables have also been used in recent public health discussions, particularly in relation, for example, to the effects of pesticides on fruit and vegetables.
While it is true that public health is a priority for many in the industry, there is a lack of scientific evidence to back up the claims that pesticides cause or are linked to the development of obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
“There is no evidence to support the public health claims made by the industry and we must continue to work with the public and the food safety community to understand the risks and benefits of pesticides,” said Professor Neil Clements, Chairman of the Royal Colleges Food Safety Taskforce.
These industries are also involved in lobbying against food labelling regulations.
“FDA has consistently warned that the food labeling regulations need to be robust and that they need to include clear information about the risks posed by chemicals used in food production,” said Clements.
However, the public can find some of the information they need on the food packaging website www.labellingfood.org.uk, which lists the chemical ingredients in the products they are currently selling.
In some cases, the label information is also available on a website called Food Labels