04/04/2006

Food firms 'not taking health seriously enough'

The world's top 25 food companies are not taking health seriously enough, a new report has claimed.

The report, by researchers at London's City University, examined how the companies were addressing World Health Organisation guidelines on tackling obesity, heart disease, cancers and diabetes.

The report studied the annual reports, accounts and HQ websites of the top ten food manufacturers, top ten food retailers and top five foodservice companies - three fast food companies and two contract caterers.

The researchers said that the findings were "worrying". Only ten of the 25 companies were taking action to reduce salt in their products, while only five were taking action on sugar and only four on fats.

Eight companies reported that they were taking action to reduce transfats, while only two were taking action to reduce portion sizes. Kraft was the only company found to be taking action on all five issues, followed by PepsiCo, which was found to be taking action on all issues, except portion sizes.

Retailers performed particularly poorly, the report said, but stated that Ahold was tacking action on three issues - the reduction of salt, sugar and transfats.

Food manufacturers were found to be more pro-active on reducing salt and sugar content that other sectors, the report found.

The report also said that McDonalds, which has been high profile in the diet and health debate, reported no commitments other than on portion size.

The report authors said: "There is a pretty poor overall picture, with too many companies appearing not to care a jot.

"Companies should be wary about doing the minimum or presenting a few hurried initiatives in self-promotional terms. A luke-warm response from food companies to the enormity of the public health evidence amassed by the WHO and researchers risks engendering some cynicism.

"Company actions must move from being purely defensive or centred on obviating threats to their reputations."

Responding to the report, the Food and Drink Federation said that the industry was committed to tackling the problems surrounding food and health. "Tremendous amounts of changes" had already been undertaken, the FDF said.

(KMcA)

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