Food industry ready to tackle Preventative Health Taskforce recommendations: AFGC

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 1st September 2009

Australia’s food and grocery sector is ready to proactively face the challenges outlined in the Federal Government’s National Preventative Health Taskforce Strategy, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said today.

The taskforce report released today, Australia: The Healthiest Country by 2020, was handed into the Federal Government a couple of months ago and is set to guide future health policy.

It has outlined several challenging recommendations for food and grocery manufacturers, to be phased in between 2010-2013, which AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell – a member of the taskforce – said would be addressed through strategic partnerships between Government, industry and community.

“Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing sector welcomes these preventative health challenges and has already made strong inroads in these areas with a number of self-regulated measures including front of pack food labelling, an advertising to children initiative and the reduction of salt and trans-fats in processed foods,” Ms Carnell said.

“Overweight and obesity is one of the major challenges facing our country and industry is committed to being part of the solution. We stand ready to work with Government and communities but there’s still plenty of work ahead – the pressure’s now firmly on Australia’s food and grocery sector to deliver on its promises.”

Industry response to key recommendations:

Advertising foods to children
Under Recommendation 5 in the report’s Obesity section, the National Preventative Health Taskforce Strategy has recommended a reduction in the exposure of children to advertising of energy-dense nutrient-poor (EDNP) foods and to monitor the impact of an industry-regulated approach to advertising these products to children.

In relation to this recommendation, Ms Carnell said that the sector had made inroads in addressing the recommendation via the success of AFGC’s Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative, which came into effect on January 1 this year. So far, 16 of the largest manufacturers in the country have pledged to only advertise healthier options to children.

“It’s encouraging to see Australia’s food manufacturers have already committed not to advertise certain foods to children under this initiative, unless they are promoting healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle consistent with scientific standards,” Ms Carnell noted. “This initiative will be closely scrutinized and evaluated by Government and other groups to assess its effectiveness.”

Front-of-pack food labelling
The taskforce recommended a partnership approach between industry, health and consumer groups to introduce front of pack food labelling to support healthier food choices with easy to understand information on energy, sugar, fat, saturated fats, salt and transfats and a standard serve/portion size within three years.

Ms Carnell said industry had already taken a proactive approach to community concerns by introducing Daily Intake Guides (DIG) in 2006 after reviewing food labelling systems around the world.

Health Food Compact
The taskforce has suggested a need for change in Australia’s food supply and the development of voluntary targets through the establishment of the Health Food Compact framework between Government, industry and community groups, which has been welcomed by AFGC.

“Working collaboratively to reduce the amount of salt, fats and trans-fats in products has the potential to make many staple products healthier – industry has already reduced salt, saturated fats, salt and trans-fats in many products,” Ms Carnell advised.

“For example, over the past five years there has been about a 20 per cent reduction of salt, on average, in breads, with levels dropping from 550mg to 450mg. Low fat milk also accounted for 45 per cent of the retail milk market in Australia in 2008.”

Review of taxation
The report recommended a review of economic policies and taxation systems but Ms Carnell believes taxes on foods were not the answer to effectively tackle Australia’s obesity problem.

“Food taxes are regressive as they penalise people who can least afford it – however industry does support a review of taxation policies that promote active living and healthy lifestyles,” she said.

Ms Carnell said overall there was no quick fix solution for the growing levels of obesity and chronic disease in Australia.

“We will only reverse this trend with a comprehensive and strategic approach involving Governments, industry, the community and individuals. We all have to commit to make Australia healthier, whether in the workplace, at school or at home.”

Taskforce Strategy:

“The Strategy identifies seven strategic directions to ensure a comprehensive approach:

1. Shared responsibility – developing strategic partnerships – at all levels of government, industry, business, unions, the non-government sector, research institutions and communities;
2. Act early and throughout life – working with individuals, families and communities;
3. Engage communities – act and engage with people where they live, work and play; at home, in schools, workplaces and the community. Inform, enable and support people to make healthy choices;
4. Influence markets and develop coherent policies – for example, through taxation, responsive regulation, and through coherent and connected policies;
5. Reduce inequity through targeting disadvantage – especially low socioeconomic status (SES) population groups;
6. Indigenous Australians – contribute to ‘Close the Gap’; and
7. Refocus primary healthcare towards prevention.”

More details about key recommendations can be found here.