Big business builds BIG bellies and FAT wallets all round

Friday 14 Dec 2012

  • Is the Danish ‘Fat Tax’ a victim of austerity?
  • Discover the cosy relationship between food companies and politicians
  • Find out why there might be hidden dangers in new plans to map our genes

I made a discovery when I was browsing through the online version of The Wall Street Journal the other day ...

... it’s amazing what lengths I go to in avoiding writing my Christmas cards every year!

I was keen to see what they were reporting with regards to food and eating.

After entering my search term I came across this headline:

 “Denmark Scraps Much-Maligned 'Fat Tax' After a Year.”

Do you remember how much fuss was made when the Danes originally imposed the tax?

They were adding an additional charge onto all foods with high fat content with a view to dissuading consumers from buying them.

I wrote a letter about in October last year, where I said that I was a fan of anyone trying to improve the national diet, but thought they had got this one wrong. Read Fat Tax Stops Spare Tyres (And Spare Cash) Here

Well it appears the good burgers (sorry, meant to write burghers but spell check seems to be ahead of the story here!) of Copenhagen have withdrawn this unpopular tax.

Even though their coffers have benefited by €170m in these times of austerity, the government has decided to drop this levy on food.

The WSJ article quotes Mette Gjerskov, the Danish minister for food, agriculture and fisheries, as follows:

"The fat tax is one of the most maligned we had in a long time. Now we have to try improving the public health by other means."

That sounds almost like an enlightened politician, but one aspect of the story does intrigue me.

Why did I only see this in an American paper and not in any of those which were trumpeting the benefits of such a tax in the UK last year?

Some commentators were saying how beneficial it would be to apply such a measure to stop the obesity explosion.

In many ways I have a lot of sympathy with this viewpoint as it actually makes a direct link between poor quality food, low incomes and the dominance of media advertising which lie at the heart of the problem.

But it will never happen because there isn’t much of an appetite from our politicians to direct a challenge at the big retailers or food producers.

If they started to name names, point out who was making the dodgy food and generally start to charge for the privilege, they would be a bit unpopular … and a lot lighter in the wallet.

The poor food money-go-round

Just two years ago, fast food companies McDonald's and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Unilever, Mars and Diageo were asked to write the government's policy on obesity.

Yeah, quite!

The big supermarkets were part of the initiative for healthy eating, and the most significant corporate gyms were co-ordinating an exercise initiative.

Watch the money drip out of the fat cats' wallets and into the government coffers.

There might even have been enough oiling of the wheels to allow Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs to turn a blind eye to a bit of corporation tax avoidance ...

… just saying … it might have happened!

In the US there is a more open view into how companies support political organisations.

In 2010 the McDonald's corporation banked profits of $24.1bn, but gave nearly $1m in support of politicians – but they are very cute because they back both sides (48% Democrat and 52% Republican).

Maybe they work the same routine here.

I’m not in possession of any facts to support that particular point of view, but haven’t we heard about enough under the table deals in Whitehall over the past decade to begin to suspect?

But this just makes me even more curious about why our media didn’t pick up this story.

Surely I haven’t dug up something that the big boys' PR firms have missed?

This was the perfect excuse to start the presses rolling with stories about the failure of political intervention into lifestyle choices.

Hopefully my discovery won’t open that particular Pandora’s box.

Being fat is in the genes … as well as the jeans!

On the 60th anniversary of the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, it’s worth mentioning the role our genes play in body shape.

A few years ago we saw a lot of bunkum about the discovery of ‘the fat gene’ which predetermines that someone will be obese.

The contention was that if you had this genetic makeup it wouldn’t matter if you only ate steam and ran 250 miles a day, you would still be overweight.

 Now I’m prepared to accept that there is an element of nature in how we grow and develop, after all my Mum was big boned too!

However, I get worried when I see this type of thing being touted around because it is then only a small step to one or possibly two big issues developing.

Option One: each baby born is tested and allocated to a fat group or normal group, affecting their NHS cover, insurance costs and life prospects.

Option Two: the bright eyed boys and girls in the pharmaceutical companies develop genetic drugs to combat the effects of the obesity gene.

In the latter case, that possibility led The Telegraph to run a headline in 2010 which read ‘Fat gene may lead to a thin pill’.

Be warned when a plan is put together to genetically map the UK population, no good will come of it.

Obesity will become blamed on the individual rather than the food and drink industry, and costs will be borne out of household budgets rather than the State.

By making a concerted effort to re-introduce food as a route to health, teaching our kids to cook and prepare fresh foods and forcing retailers to stock seasonal fresh foods, we will make a much bigger impact on the nation's health.

Of course this approach doesn’t make anyone a multi-billionaire, or even allow a good health scare story to develop.

I guess common sense just doesn’t make front page news.

Yours, as always







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