The UK’s Department of Health is putting food manufacturers at the heart of policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, according to reports.

The Observer reported yesterday (14 November) that health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with businesses such as McDonald’s and PepsiCo, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies.

Charlie Powell, campaign director of the Children’s Food Campaign said it was “naive” to imagine that businesses that sell junk food can give impartial advice.

“The Government is seeking advice on diet and health from the very businesses that aggressively market fatty, sugary and salty foods. This is an appalling conflict of interest and will do nothing to help slow down the rate of childhood obesity,” he added. 

Chair of the Child Growth Foundation and board member of the National Obesity Forum, Tam Fry, said he is fearful that “because Lansley has got no money, industry is saying basically that ‘we will help you with your campaign, as long as you don’t penalise us’.”

“There will be no regulation or legislation to curtail industry’s wish to produce more and more food to get richer and richer and not worry too much if that food is healthy or not,” he added.

Powell said he expects the government to put in place “business friendly policies”, adding that the food industry has “ploughed billion of euros” campaigning against traffic light labelling schemes.

Both the Children’s Food Campaign and the National Obesity Forum are seeking traffic light labelling on food instead of Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs).

“The traffic light scheme has been the one shown by research that consumers can most readily use and find most useful in terms of the information it gives,” said Powell.

“The labelling system at the moment confuses the hell out of the customer. The industry at the moment uses the GDA, which is hugely laborious. You need to be a mathematical genius to work it all out. And they do this to confuse the customer,” Fry said.

Fry added that the NHS will be the one to suffer from the lax regulations he expects to result from the close relationship between manufacturers and the Government.

“First of all they have to be treated for their obesity, then they have to be treated for their type 2 diabetes, for their cardiovascular problems, for all the co-morbidities and the NHS has to pick up the tab. Government on behalf of the nation needs to say that you are not accountable, we must make you accountable. In so doing, you must follow certain rules.”

The UK government is continuing to get closer to industry, announcing in July that it was withdrawing funding from its Change4Life health campaign, with business to fund the campaign instead.

It also announced plans to revamp the Food Standards Agency in July, shifting its nutrition and labelling responsibilities to the Department of Health.

The Department of Health did not respond to calls for comment before this article went to press.