According to researchers at The City University who have investigated the attitudes of the world’s top 25 food companies to diet and nutrition, the food industry is not taking the global diet and health agenda seriously enough.

Researchers studied the annual reports, accounts and websites of the top ten food manufacturers, top ten food retailers and top five food-service companies to determine what action they were, or were not, taking to tackle the health agenda agreed by the World Trade Organisation and outlined in the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

“The research is the first attempt to monitor whether and how these powerful companies are reporting on their impact on diet and health. We set out to shine a light on what these mostly publicly quoted companies are doing, or report they are doing. Our findings are worrying. There is a pretty poor overall picture, with too many companies appearing not to care a jot,” concluded the City team.

Of the groups investigated, retailers came off the worst while food manufacturers, who have been under attack for producing fatty, salty and sugary foods, actually reported most activity.

“This suggests that the best way to get companies to take health seriously is to have critics outside giving them a hard time. The critics are unpaid watchdogs. Eventually the companies wake up,” said Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City said. “The danger is that health criticism is focussed only on certain high profile companies, and not across entire sectors, which is what is needed.

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“The findings of this report suggest that the world’s food companies are not yet fully engaged with the seriousness and urgency of the demands to tackle diet-related ill-health worldwide.”

However, responding to the report, the food industry said that as a whole it is taking action to encourage healthy diets.

A spokesperson industry body the Food and Drink Federation said: “If the report’s authors want the food and drink manufacturing industry to take more action on food and health, they are pushing at an open door.  FDF’s Food and Health Manifesto is a clear demonstration of industry’s commitment to helping tackle the problems surrounding food and health.”