Posts Tagged ‘Food Industry’
Some leading food and beverage companies have announced new measures to improve their industry’s reputation and win back the trust of consumers. For example, advertising of unhealthy junk food to minors is scheduled to be phased out within this decade, and less confusing food labeling is also in the works, according to Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), an international network organization for hundreds of retailers and manufacturers that just held its annual summit in Paris, France.
“The consumer goods industry acknowledges its role in the health and wellness of society, the issues around it, and the imperative need for actions. We have to scale up our efforts. We have to accelerate existing initiatives. We have to engage in multi-stakeholder dialogues and efforts,” said Paul Bulcke, the C.E.O. of Nestle, one of the world’s biggest food and drink manufacturers at the meeting. “We need to show [consumers] we are a responsive and responsible industry, now more than ever,” he added.
Besides working towards greater protection of children and more user-friendly labeling, the CGF also called for the industry to increase awareness of the impact modern food production has on the environment such as greenhouse gas emission and deforestation, and to employ effective countermeasures.
At the center of criticism directed at food companies is, of course, the obesity crisis that keeps worsening around the globe. Processed food products that are high in sugar, salt and fat content are seen as leading causes of health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.
While it would be most desirable if manufacturers made healthier foods – the kinds people used to eat – the problem is that real food isn’t really profitable, said Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times. By processing food, instead of selling it in its natural state, companies are able to “add value,” not necessarily for consumers but for retailers who can warehouse and shelf them almost endlessly. For example, potatoes may rot within weeks, but chips last forever; fresh bread may go stale overnight, but the enriched varieties remain soft almost indefinitely. Unfortunately, extending shelf life and reducing spoilage makes processed foods not only more profitable but also much inferior, if not outright harmful, in terms of their nutritional quality.
It would be naïve to think the industry would be willing to abandon the business practices it so successfully developed over many decades only because the public has become more concerned over health issues in connection with their products.
“Food companies are well aware of the health crisis their products cause, and recognize that the situation is unsustainable,” Bittman said. “But […] as long as even one of the big food companies remains cynical and uncaring about its market, they all must remain so.”
And yet, there are changes happening behind the scenes and put in place without much fanfare, even though they are somewhat revolutionary. For instance, industry giants like Nestle and General Mills have begun reducing sugar content in cereals and beverages without publicly saying so, according to reports by the Wall Street Journal. Restaurant chains from Applebee’s to Starbucks include more and more low-calorie options in their menus. And both manufacturers and restaurant operators are making what they call “stealth health” modifications in their recipes, from cookies to fast food favorites, cutting back on salt and fat and finding alternatives to maintain taste.
The companies proceed with these changes gradually and even secretly because they don’t always know how far they can go without loosing customers. Later on, if they succeed in reformulating their products to people’s liking, they then can put out additional health claims, expand their market shares, and polish their image, said Julie Jargon, a food writer for the Wall Street Journal who follows these trends.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).
Obesity has grown into an alarming public health crisis, and there is no telling when or even whether we will be able to get this epidemic under control. Over two thirds of Americans now struggle with weight problems, and there is no consensus among the experts over the precise causes. Recommendations for countermeasures range from calls for more government involvement to greater responses from food manufacturers and restaurant operators to better health education of the public.
Recent legislation for the improvement of nutrition standards of school lunches and initiatives like “Let’s Move” to reduce childhood obesity have gotten some traction, but progress remains slow and uncertain, according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Overall, there is no significant change in the current trends, and so the battle for America’s health continues unabated. There is general agreement that more, much more needs to be done.
Demands for tougher regulation of industry and policies to influence the behavior of consumers have become louder in recent years, but we have not seen the results we had hoped for. In a recent op-ed article, New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has faulted the current Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, for being “missing in action” in the fight against obesity, especially childhood obesity. On this issue, he writes, “Benjamin, like most of her predecessors, is virtually invisible.” Even with regards to seemingly straight forward measures like curbing children’s exposure to junk food via advertisements on TV or banning soda sales from school campuses, the government remains inexplicably passive. Instead, it still lays most of the blame at the feet of the victims by overemphasizing personal accountability.
Voluntary commitments by food manufacturers and restaurant operators have not produced much success either, despite of ample promises to show more cooperation by making food labels less confusing, offering healthier alternatives on fast food menus, or limiting exposure of kids to food advertisements.
But there is another aspect to this discussion that is often neglected. It is people’s real life experience that is not taken enough into account. By this I don’t mean to lend credence to oversimplifying statements that people are responsible for their own actions and should not blame others for their demise. Those who read my columns and blog posts know very well that I am a strong supporter of many of the measures Mr. Bittman and others are proposing.
Asking folks to make better nutritional choices makes no sense if they live miles and miles away from food outlets that carry fresh produce or in neighborhoods where getting physical exercise is difficult because of safety concerns and lack of public facilities like bike paths and parks. It is also futile to make dietary recommendations that completely ignore financial limits or access to health education.
But still, no matter what we will try from here on in terms of legislation and policy making, changing individual behavior will always play a predominant role. Eating habits are rarely just about food. They are also about stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, addiction, past traumatic experiences, and more. By exclusively focusing on the quality and quantity of our food supply, we will not be able to really understand these concerns and make them part of the equation, as they need to be. As they say, all politics are local. And all health issues are personal.
Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com. For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.