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UK ministry establishes first ‘responsibility deal’

October 2010

Britain’s health secretary has told companies they will not face legislation on ‘unhealthy’ food, provided they support a forthcoming anti-obesity drive.

Businesses including confectionery companies and fast food manufacturers have been asked to fund the government’s advertising campaign Change4Life in exchange for a ‘non-regulatory approach’ towards the ingredients used in their products.

Change4Life, which will be centred around a website giving advice on healthy eating and exercise, is to go fully live in January 2011.

No figures have yet been given as to how much it will cost or what proportion of the expense will have to be met by companies. But the previous Labour government, which created the idea for the programme, expected the cost to be £75million (€87m, $118m) over three years. Tesco, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Pepsi have already pledged their support for the initiative, though not in hard cash terms.

The offer is the first of the ‘responsibility deals’ the Conservatives promised if elected (EP11, issue 11, p9), whereby businesses will be offered the prospect of a lighter regulatory burden in exchange for agreeing sets of responsible behaviours across sectors.

An arrangement on corporate waste looks likely to be the next deal, and the agreement on obesity could be widened to encompass alcohol abuse.

The health secretary Andrew Lansley said businesses ‘understand the social responsibility of people having a better lifestyle and they don’t regard that as remotely inconsistent with their long-term commercial interest’. He argued that regulation on the issue was therefore not necessary, but that a deal needs to be struck to crystallize the corporate commitment to tackling unhealthy lifestyles in the UK.

He added: ‘No government campaign or programme can force people to make healthy choices. We want to free business from the burden of regulation, but we don’t want, in doing that, to sacrifice public health outcomes.’

Campaigners on obesity, which affects one in four people in the UK, have criticized Lansley’s decision. The National Obesity Forum argued that some countries such as Denmark and the US have successfully used legislation to enforce action on junk food, and that the responsibility deal is ‘a barefaced request for cash from a rich food and drink industry’ rather than any serious attempt to increase responsible behaviour in the sector.

However, the food industry has welcomed the policy. Julian Hunt, communications director at the Food and Drink Federation, said: ‘We agree that in complex debates, such as obesity, the best solutions will be delivered through a shared social responsibility and not state regulation.’

Given that the government has jettisoned the post of CSR minister, responsibility deals will be overseen by the ministries most involved with the relevant sectors.




UK & NI Ireland | Government role

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