Blog: Dean BestGovernment intervention - right or wrong?

Dean Best | 22 October 2007

Obesity was back on the front pages here in the UK last week as the latest report into the state of the nation’s waistline was unveiled.

The findings won’t have surprised anyone too much – the country is getting morbidly obese, costing us millions in healthcare and our children, in particular, are at risk.

The majority of health campaigners, however, will feel disappointed that this latest investigation didn’t come packaged up with a clearer set of proposals on how to combat this crisis. The industry meanwhile will no doubt have been un-nerved by the change in emphasis in the report. Targeting individual responsibility, it basically said, had not worked and a top-down approach was needed. As I said, no particular policy options were mentioned, but my feeling was that increased regulation will be the natural outcome from these conclusions.

Far-reaching government intervention will have its critics. However, there was an example in Norway this week of a way the authorities could participate whole-heartedly in this debate without appearing draconian. The Norwegian Department of Health (DoH) has commenced legislative work to introduce a National Health Brand for food products by the end of 2008. The legislation, led by Health Minister Sylvia Brustad, will include the "broadest input from the foods industry and other interest groups" to establish a brand and brand logo. Let’s here your views on this. Can it work?

The issue of government intervention will have split the food industry in France, meanwhile, with the findings of the Attali report into the retail sector causing great controversy. Attali's suggestion that removing retail planning restrictions or legalising below-cost selling would kick-start the retail economy has been challenged by food maunfacturers.

Elsewhere, it’s been a more positive few days for the food industry. Retail sales in the UK seem to have bounced back after a poor summer. And, in order to leave you on a positive note, it's worth mentioning that despite rising costs and difficult consumer conditions at present, two of our industry’s powerhouses, Danone and Nestle, are enjoying buoyant sales.


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