Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Health and nutrition policies of the world's 25 top food companies

Here is the Guardian's story, based on a report (.pdf) from Tim Lang, Geof Rayner, and Elizabeth Kaelin of the Centre for Food Policy at City University in London.

Felicity Lawrence, consumer affairs correspondent
Tuesday April 4, 2006
The Guardian

The world's top 25 food companies have not taken significant action to improve diets despite their claims, according to a report published today.

City University, London, has done an audit of the top 10 food manufacturers, top 10 food retailers and top five food service companies, comparing what they have done against the strategy agreed by the World Health Organisation to tackle obesity and other diet-related diseases. It finds that only a handful are acting on excess fat and sugar in the diet and only 10 are tackling salt levels.

Researchers at City University reviewed the companies' policies on nutrition, research and development, marketing, labelling and other criteria relating to health, as reported in the firms' annual accounts or on their websites last year.

"Their performance is by and large pathetic," said Tim Lang, one of the authors of the report, The Food Industry: Diet, Physical Activity and Health. "The companies that appear to be doing the most are the ones under intense pressure because their product ranges are the unhealthiest, but there is a whiff of desperation about what they are doing rather than long-term commitment to better food."

Retailers performed particularly poorly, although of the top global retailers operating in the UK, Tesco scored more highly than Wal-mart.

Unilever was the exception among manufacturers, singled out by researchers for anticipating trends in health rather than reacting defensively to criticism.

Researchers also found variation within categories, saying that campaigners had succeeded in demonising certain leading companies but not changing behaviour in categories as a whole.

Thanks to a Friedman School student for sending the link.