Lansley backs deals with food industry to tackle obesity

Legislating to make food healthier is more expensive and less effective than engaging with the food and alcohol industries, health secretary Andrew Lansley has said.

Andrew Lansley: legislation won't eliminate obesity
Andrew Lansley: legislation won't eliminate obesity

Last week, Mr Lansley defended the government’s decision to focus its public health strategy to combat obesity and alcohol misuse on the 'responsibility deal'.

Speaking at an all-party parliamentary group on primary care and public health meeting, he said there were barriers to introducing legislation to improve public health and advantages to working with business.

‘We achieve more progress more quickly by working together than if we were to work in some kind of antagonistic or adversial relationship between government and industry,’ he said.

Mr Lansley said it was possible to change the environment that led to poor public health and 'we have to engage very widely in order to do that'.

‘We have to engage with the business community who control a large part of that environment, whether it’s the lack of fresh foods, the content of those processed foods, the extent to which they are energy dense or the availability of large amounts of relatively cheap energy-dense foods,' he said.

Mr Lansley also stressed the limits of what could be achieved by regulatory changes.

‘It would be nice to think that we could pass the "Elimination of Obesity Act 2012",' he said. 'But it’s not going to happen. It’s not possible, not least because the EU control these things, rather than us.’

He said that legislative measures to improve public health would also be limited and were likely to have unintended consequences.

'Not only are there considerable constraints on what you can do in an international marketplace, but there are very big consequences and costs that flow from that,' he said.

‘You move into an adversarial relationship and a regulatory relationship with industry. They are constantly fighting back against it. You don’t make the progress you might in a timescale that you want to, and you end up with lots of costs being passed on to consumers.’

Mr Lansley said that the responsibility deal had sought to work on a partnership basis.

‘We achieve more progress more quickly by working together than if we were to work in some kind of antagonistic or adversial relationship between government and industry,’ he said.

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