Friday 16 August 2019

Cooking For Bureaucrats

The IEA has an important new report out today - Cooking for Bureaucrats - which looks at the government’s food reformulation scheme. With the noble exception of Laura Donnelly at the Telegraph, journalists have shown little interest in this deranged plan to remake the food supply to satisfy the loonies at Action on Sugar.

Combining investigative journalism and economic analysis, Josie Appleton shows how vast and crazy the whole thing is. It is devoid of common sense and divorced from the wants of consumers. PHE are making it up as they go. For example...

Many of the targets are surreal, such as the recommendation that sweets should contain less than 50 per cent sugar, when boiled sweets are almost solely made up of sugar; or the request that fudge, made from sugar and butter/cream, should decrease its sugar content without increasing its fat content. The guideline for sugar content in nut butters is less than that naturally occurring in cashew nuts. The calorie guideline for olive bread (254kcal per 100g) is lower than that of a plain baguette or ciabatta. The calorie reduction figure for crisps and nuts is 403kcal per 100g, whereas plain peanuts (not allowing for roasting) are 600kcal per 100g.

PHE is also trying to introduce ‘calorie caps’ for a huge range of food products. Josie got hold of the documents showing how these are calculated. They are extraordinary. PHE takes the sales weighted average and simply knocks off 20 per cent. As the graphs below show, this often means making food which is currently at the extreme end of the distribution. It is at the extreme end because hardly anybody wants or needs it.

She has also used Freedom of Information requests to obtain emails between PHE and two groups: the food industry and the nanny state lobby groups Action on Sugar/Salt. These are also illuminating. For example...

This private communication shows that PHE work closely on the development of policy with NGOs. Policies are run past the pressure groups in their early stages, and only released to industry for consultation much later. For example, OHA was briefed on the calorie reduction programme in August 2017, seven months before consultation with industry food bodies (March 2018). In September 2017, OHA had a ‘catch-up meeting’ with PHE, discussing excess calorie definitions, and portion size recommendations, timelines and reporting mechanisms, and the role of the NGO sector. They arrange meetings not to formally consult, but to ‘swap notes’ or ‘catch up’, or to ‘update you on some work we are doing’. They congratulate each other on report launches or media appearances. 
Interest groups are included in policy plans at an early stage, and play a role in the development of these plans, which are later presented to industry as a done deal, to be tweaked but not substantially changed. PHE and Action on Sugar (AOS) exchange emails almost every week, and seem to have a meeting in person around once a month (after each meeting they email to ‘get another date in the diary soon’).

...These health lobby groups appear to be dismissive of the actual public - the choices that people make and the opinions they actually have. They see themselves as speaking in the name of public health, which they present as being a matter of life and death, and are therefore above any profane manifestation of the public, such as what people themselves may think or want. In an email to PHE, AOS said that the aim of the reformulation policy is to ‘save millions of children from disability or early death’, and that ‘[t]his is the priority - not the profits of the food industry, or even public opinion’. The interest of public health policy, then, is something that stands above - and even against - public opinion: it claims a higher mission. So AOS is able to masquerade as the true public good, as standing above the millions of people who actually form the public.

You can download the report for free. I recommend you do. It will be an eye-opener.

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