Government backs away from joint health campaign with food industry

LONDON – The government has retreated from a partnership with the food industry that was to produce a jointly funded public education campaign covering diet and fitness, according to a food industry figure.

Gavin Neath, president of the Food & Drink Federation and chairman of Unilever, told today's ISBA Conference that the food industry will go it alone with a campaign in the hope of "firing up the government's imagination".

Neath, who has been instrumental in food manufacturers' efforts to head off stricter regulation, was speaking on the topic of partnerships between brands, business and government.

He admitted that trying to make such a partnership work in the context of obesity was a "frustrating" experience, and ascribed the government's withdrawal from the proposed umbrella campaign to a shift in priorities at the Department for Health.

"I don't know why progress has been held up," he said, but went on to give three hypotheses, one being that the DoH has more urgent tasks on its hands.

He suggested that the DoH has realised that a public education campaign would not have the short-term effects that would allow it to meet its target of halting childhood obesity by 2010.

Thirdly, he acknowledged that acting in concert with the food industry was a "very sensitive" decision for the DoH to make, which would be seen in some quarters as "sleeping with the enemy".

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