Food and Drink Federation: Corporate Crimes
- 1 Perverting the foot and mouth vaccination plan
- 2 Lobbying against the labelling of GM-ingredients in food
- 3 Protecting processed and unhealthy food
- 4 Greenwashing the 'food miles' argument.
- 5 Corrupting Organic standards
- 6 Dictating the research agenda
- 7 Shamelessly defending industry representation on government committees
- 8 Notes
Perverting the foot and mouth vaccination plan
During the height of the foot and mouth crisis, in mid-April 2001, the government had seemingly decided on a limited vaccination policy for Cumbria and possibly Devon. The vaccination option could have saved tens of thousands of animals from being needlessly slaughtered, often under inhumane conditions. It could also have saved the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation, culling, and burial costs.
The major supermarkets and consumer associations had given support to the vaccination programme. However, fierce lobbying from the food industry forced a U-turn: both Peter Blackburn, the then chief executive of Nestle UK as well as president of the FDF, and Lady Sylvia Jay, a former civil servant at the Department for International Development and director general of the FDF, stubbornly resisted the government's vaccination programme.
In a letter written to Tony Blair, Blackburn explained that the industry opposed vaccination because 'we were very afraid of the consequences on all meat and dairy exports'; he later added that vaccination could have could have risked its exports of powdered milk to developing countries. Yet the use of vaccinated milk in food production was not at threat, since 'the retailers and food manufacturers had already said they would cope' (Lord Haskins).
One might expect the FDF to be retrospectively ashamed that their president, Peter Blackburn, ferociously lobbied against vaccination when he was only protecting the interests of his own company, Nestle UK, who were concerned for the exports from just one milk-producing factory. The FDF made a major contribution (along with the National Farmer's Union) in turning about the government's vaccination policy which could have saved Cumbrian farmers from the nightmare of the culling policy.
Yet rather than be ashamed of this action, Sylvia Jay of the FDF uses their involvement over the foot and mouth crisis as an example of their power within government, boasting that 'FDF's senior officers have frequent discussions with Ministers on a range of issues and were consulted by the Prime Minister during the height of the FMD crisis.'
Lobbying against the labelling of GM-ingredients in food
The FDF opposes the labelling of GM-foods. In a 1998/1999 memorandum to a government Select Committee, the FDF said that 'we do not believe that genetic modification per se presents any food safety risk or that foods produced using GMOs represent a special class of new foods, and we believe they should be subject to the same type of risk assessment as any other new food product and its intended use, rather than its method of development.'
Although the FDF claims that it is keen to support the consumer's wishes of having GM-free food, it is simultaneously campaigning heavily against any further 'tightening up' of the labelling laws. As recently as September 2001, Sylvia Jay of the FDF said:
'As soon as it became clear that most consumers did not want to eat food containing genetically modified ingredients, UK food and drink manufacturers started to seek supplies of conventional crops.'
However, the more recent proposals by the European Commission seem too much for the FDF to bear. At present, food sold in the EU must be labelled as 'GM' if more than 1% of its ingredients are genetically modified. The European Commission has now proposed lowering this cut-off figure to 0.5%, including in the calculation ingredients that are derived from GM sources, regardless of whether they contain GM DNA or protein. For example, oil derived from GM-soya or maize (which contains no DNA at all) would now be defined and labelled as GM-oil. This move has been welcomed by those who oppose GM-food production. Peter Riley of Friends of the Earth explains that the current labelling laws are 'far too weak and allow the biotech industry to introduce GMOs into our food by stealth.'
However, the FDF and FSA both slammed the recent proposal, declaring it to be 'ridiculous', 'open to fraud', and having 'no bearing to reality'. An FDF spokesperson has spoken of their intention to lobby the Council of Ministers to oppose the Commission's proposal. Neville Craddock of the FDF called it 'unworkable', even though the European Commission responded by saying that the proposal was 'far less complex than you're suggesting'.
Neville Craddock has been an industry employee most of his working life; he is presently Group Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Manager for Nestle UK, as well as Chair of the Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Committee of the FDF. Most interesting are his links to the Food Standards Agency where he sits on the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).
Valerie Saint (of the FDF and of Unilever) recently sat on the government's Clear Labelling Taskforce whose remit is to 'review the ease with which consumers are currently able to obtain information of concern to them from food labels.' The taskforce concluded that consumers would not need to know the GM-content of their food in order to make 'informed purchase decisions', although it also warned food manufacturers of 'other statutory information' which would have to be given by law, which may include GM-content.
Protecting processed and unhealthy food
On numerous occasions the FDF has defended companies who produce food that is high in salts, fats, sugars, additives and preservatives.
When a survey of 800 parents labelled foods such as Sunny Delight as 'vile', 'sugary' and 'over-processed', Martin Paterson (Deputy Director General and Director of Communications for the FDF) retaliated by saying that 'No one food is bad. Balance is the key and demonising individual products which are marketed as snacks or treats may be unhelpful to both parents and children.'
 When Demos, a UK think-tank, proposed that foods with a high fat and sugar content, and in particular processed and fast-foods, should be taxed to subsidise healthier foods (such as fruit and vegetables), Martin Paterson of the FDF again retaliated in defence of the food processing industry, arguing that: 'A so-called 'fat tax' would hit lower income families, be patronising to consumers, and be a tax on choice.' A tax on unhealthy food has been likened to the tax used to discourage smoking and drinking. Demos also argues that the tax would encourage low-income families to choose healthier options.
 When a Which? Report criticised the quality of supermarkets' premium own label ranges, saying that the extra price paid for these ranges does not guarantee better tasting food, the FDF again stepped in, arguing that: 'Consumers aren't fools. They are very savvy and if a shopper feels they are being had, they won't buy that product again.'
Salt in food
The daily requirement for salt is only about 5g a day, yet the majority of people in the UK eat twice as much. Too much salt is bad for the body and the sodium in salt has been implicated in causing high blood pressure, which is linked to coronary heart disease and strokes. Excessive salt intake is also linked to osteoporosis and stomach cancer. Recently, the pressure group Consensus Action on Salt and Health, a group of doctors and chefs, called for food manufacturers to reduce drastically the amount of 'hidden' salt in our foods.
Salt is used as a preservative and flavour-enhancer in adult and children's food alike. One pack of Dairylea Lunchables contains 3g salt. A 205g tin of Tesco Spaghetti letters contains 2.5g salt. A chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle contains 4g salt. Ready-meals can contain up to 7g of salt.
Once again, the FDF stepped in (this time Jackie Dowthwaite), defending the industry's decision to use high amounts of salt in their food: 'Do you think consumers would be fooled into thinking cheap meat was a prime cut just by adding a bit of salt?'
 A report carried out by Organix, a baby food company, found that 3-4 of children's foods surveyed contained artificial flavourings or flavour enhancers, such as monosodium glutamate, which are banned for use in baby food. 1/3 of foods contained colourings, including dyes banned in Scandinavia and America. Despite this startling revelation, the FDF characteristically replied that:
'It is scaremongering nonsense to suggest that children's food is not subject to strict regulation. All food in the UK has to be safe. That's the law'. Professor Aggett of the FDF, who has had personal interests with SMA Nutrition, Kelloggs, Nestle, Unilever and many other food companies, is also Deputy-Chair of the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT). He has been a member of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA).
 Breakfast cereal bars, the fastest growing category of breakfast products, are designed for people who do not have time for breakfast and are marketed as lunch-box fillers for children. Many of these products are loaded with fat, contain more sugar than chocolate and could not be approved for healthy eating. The report by the Food Commission, which tested 18 of the breakfast bars including Frosties, Coco Pops and Trackers, says it would never recommend them due to their poor nutritional content. They added, 'Breakfast substitutes should offer the healthiest alternative not a worse option.' The Commission are concerned that the bars are a particular danger to teeth, encouraging maximum damage.
Amazingly, the Food and Drink Federation disputed the suggestion that cereal bars were not nutritious. On their 'Foodfitness' website, the FDF tells people interested in a healthy lifestyle that: 'Snacks are also a useful source of carbohydrates and other nutrients ...But remember to check out food labels to keep track of the fat content.' The 'Foodfitness' website offers no actual guidelines on 'fat content', making the above advice almost useless.
Greenwashing the 'food miles' argument.
One of many concerns raised by the current system of 'free trade' in agriculture is the unnecessary amount of miles that food travels. See for example, the Green Party publication 'The Great Food Swap' and the SUSTAIN publication ' Eating Oil' Besides the general argument that transport increases energy consumption, there is a serious concern that trade related air freight is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change. There are also serious concerns about the social impact of farmers from around the world being played off against each other for the lowest price and the effects this has on labour rights and wages, let alone the environmental damage of growing monocultures of crops for export.
In a recent press release, the FDF claimed that concern about 'food miles' is a red herring, and that in terms of energy consumption, domestic refrigeration and cooking is far more energy intensive. The FDF also said that consumers would not support any moves to restrict the year-round availability of seasonal fruit and vegetables, even though imports must travel thousands of miles.
The FDF published this claim in their 'blueprint for sustainability', prepared for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. They claim that the amount of energy used in transporting food and drink to shops from farms and factories was relatively small, and that the manufacture of food and drink accounted for more than 13 times as much energy. And domestic refrigeration and cooking used more than eight times as much. This of course entirely misses the point.
In what could be seen as a retort to food purists who criticise 'ready meals', the FDF also said it made environmental sense to do as much food preparation as possible in factories since industrial-scale cooking equipment was more energy efficient than the domestic equivalent. As the FDF is a trade association representing food processor's interests, it was very likely to come up with this argument.
Corrupting Organic standards
The Organic Food Manufacturers Liaison Group represents over 50 food manufacturers. It was set up in 2001 to 'ensure high quality standards' as well as support the future development of new certification standards, based on consumer needs. One assumes this means the additives, preservatives and colourings that are so much a part of processed food manufacturing, though not part of most people's vision of organic foods as healthy and chemical-free.
In a press statement, Sylvia Jay re-affirmed this differing vision for organic food between many small producers and the industry, who have spotted an emerging and fast growing market. 'Organic food is no longer just box schemes and health food shops. It is now a mainstream, global market'. In the UK, the total organic food market is now estimated to be worth in excess of �800 million an increase of 278% since 1996. If current growth rates are maintained the market will reach �1billon by 2002 and more than 5% of the grocery market by 2005-6. Tesco and Sainsbury's have over 600 lines of organic produce in major stores. Its not surprising that the food manufacturing industry see the co-option of the organic market as a key market.
Dictating the research agenda
The food processing and manufacturing sector developed out of a recognition that the demand for food is fairly inelastic i.e. there is only so much food we can eat, however cheap it is. However, through innovation and technological 'advances' we can add value to food, thus always ensuring there are new products and new demand. Over the years, such innovation has taken the form of preservatives, enzymes, additives, flavourings, colourings, new processing techniques and ready meals. There have also been staggering advances in the processing of food, ensuring that it is ever more efficient, that the supply of raw materials is constant and the price of raw materials is lower - to this end GM technology appeals to the food processors as it creates oversupply. Furthermore, the promise of GM technology with processing traits, such as bread wheat with higher gluten levels so that gluten does not need to be added in the baking stage, seems very appealing to the industry.
Evidently, the industry invests heavily in research and development, however, it makes more financial sense to get the government to fund research. Representatives of the FDF sit, and have sat on the board of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, as well as the government Foresight committees, that are developing new visions for food technology on behalf of the government and at the Rothampsted research institute, that focuses on agronomic research, including biotechnology. Other associates of the FDF work with independent research institutes, such as the Institute of Food Research and the Institute of Food Science and Technology that are beneficiaries of government funding (See section on 'Influence and Lobbying').
With government funding so focused on research useful for industry, this narrows the amount available for independent research, for exampleon the health risks of new food technologies. This, of course, can only be viewed as a good thing by the industry.
Shamelessly defending industry representation on government committees
In April 1998, Neville Craddock of the FDF (see above) gave evidence to the UK government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE's overall purpose is to 'to ensure that risks to people's health and safety from work activities are properly controlled'. This particular select committee also examined the process by which government committees, such as the Food Advisory Committee (FAC), takes advice from industry sources. Craddock felt that he, being someone who represented industry whilst sitting on government committees, was in a 'strong and relevant position to offer comments to the Committee's Inquiry, with particular reference to the role and position of so-called 'Industry Representatives' on Advisory Committees.'
The text of his memorandum contains the following quotes:
- 'Advice to Ministers must continue to be of the highest possible calibre, beyond question and be seen to be independent of any vested interests.
- The balance and source of Committee membership must be objectively addressed. Industry employees may not be unique in having direct or indirect financial interests in matters under discussion. [I.e. it's OK for committee members to be industry-employees, since other committee members, although not industry employees, may still have financial interests such as shares in relevant industries. This is not comforting.]
- The Terms of Reference of the FAC [Food Advisory Committee], in particular, can best and, perhaps, only be met by having amongst its membership, individuals with relevant, practical, first-hand experience [i.e. industry-employees] in appropriate areas, in order to ensure the widest possible basis for advice to Ministers.
For corporate lobby groups, having a representative on a government advisory committee, is exactly where they can wield their power best. Advisory committees are where legislation and regulation is debated and proposed. This is where their behaviour could be restricted and potentially, their profits curtailed.
For all the claims of 'independence from any vested interests', lobbyists can't help but work in the interests of their corporate members, since they are paid to represent them. They are hardly likely to call for tough when this is going to penalise their members, with the exception, of course, of cases in which regulation can be made to work for their interests, for example by forcing smaller producers out of the market.
- ^ Information from the Guardian, p7., September 8, 2001
- ^ http://www.bsb.org.uk/members/library/conferences/2001autumn/paper_460.htm
- ^ http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199899/ldselect/ldeucom/11/8121501.htm
- ^ Sylvia Jay quoted in Belfast News Letter September 8, 2001
- ^ M2 PRESSWIRE September 7, 2001
- ^ The Grocer July 06, 2002
- ^ http://www.foodfen.org.uk/news12.asp
- ^ http://www.foodstandards.gov.uk/foodlabelling/policiesandregulations/49321/
- ^ The Independent, July 16, 2002
- ^ The Grocer, March 09, 2002
- ^ Daily Mail, February 5, 2002
- ^ The Daily Telegraph, January 24, 2002
- ^ The Express, October 23, 2001
- ^ http://www.foodfitness.org.uk/tips4assess.htm
- ^ Food transport 'not the worst' energy culprit' by Fiona Harvey and Adam Jones, Financial Times 19/8/02
- ^ www.epolitix.com/data/companies/images/companies/Food-and-Drink-Federation/040501.htm
- ^ http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmsctech/465/465m04.htm
- ^ http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmsctech/465/465m04.htm