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FDF submission to the Public Health Commission - December 2008

The Public Health Commission was set up by the Conservative Party to examine the possibility of developing a responsibility deal between Government and the private sector to achieve improvements in public health.

The Commission - chaired by Dave Lewis, chairman of Unilever UK and Ireland - embarked on an informal consultation with stakeholders in late 2008. FDF made a short submission outlining the work of industry in two of the three policy pillars under review.

The Commission itself comprised 14 members with a range of expertise and backgrounds and held seven meetings between October 2008 and May 2009.

Details of its work and the report can be found on the Public Health Commision website

In January 2010, the Conservative Party published its green paper on public health, called 'A Healthier Nation', which built on many of the Commission's recommendations.

Introductory remarks

As the voice of UK food and soft drink producers, the largest manufacturing sector in the country, the Food and Drink Federation is pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the work of the Public Health Commission.

Our membership comprises manufacturers of all sizes, as well as trade associations and groups dealing with specific product sectors – fully reflecting the diversity of our sector.

All our members share society's concerns about the health of the nation, particularly in relation to rising obesity levels, and are absolutely committed to playing a positive role in responding to this vital debate.

Our commitment is long-standing: we published our first health and wellbeing action plan way back in 2004. And in 2007 we established a Health and Wellbeing Steering Group to work constructively with Government, regulators and others to help find solutions to the complex issues at the heart of the nutrition, health and lifestyle challenges here in the UK.

Our ambition is to make a real difference for consumers. And much progress has been made, particularly in areas such as on-pack nutrition information and recipe formulations, where the UK is now widely acknowledged to be leading the world.

Our ability to help consumers make healthier choices has been built on our industry's significant investment over many years in the science of nutrition and the study of consumer behaviour.

Our members have also been developing workplace wellbeing schemes that go way beyond the traditional health and safety agenda – again, setting the pace in an area that is only now moving up the political agenda.

Food and drink manufacturers are keen to forge genuine partnerships with Government on new initiatives that will result in long-term behaviour changes – the Department of Health's ambitious Change4Life social marketing programme is one positive recent development.

With that in mind, FDF welcomes the Conservative Party's concept of developing a 'Responsibility Deal' between Government and business. We would agree that the public health challenges facing the UK cannot be solved by regulation and legislation alone.

In reality, our sector operates within a complex EU regulatory framework that actually limits the ability of a UK Government to legislate in isolation – a fact recognised in the recent Cabinet Office Food Matters report.

Those who wrote that report understood that a real challenge for policymakers today is accepting that the Government is just one of many players in the complex debate now raging – and it has, in reality, very few policy levers to pull.

It is, therefore, sensible that Government sets a broad policy framework within which all stakeholders work together to deliver solutions that are achievable and measurable as well as make a lasting impact.

We would argue that the priority should be to develop policy approaches that harness the power of industry to invest, innovate and understand consumers' needs.

Clearly, the challenging economic climate in which we are now operating is making life much more challenging for our sector, but we do believe that health issues will remain a top priority for our members and their customers.

Nevertheless, as the industry focuses on developing strategies to cope with recession, we would also argue that future policy approaches should be realistic and not undermine the long-term vitality of the food chain, from farm to fork.

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Last reviewed: 22 Mar 2016