The Food and Drink Federation has hit back at an MPs' report slamming the government for working with the food industry to combat childhood obesity.
In a scathing attack, the Commons' Public Accounts Committee claimed the government's strategy of working alongside the food industry to change the way unhealthy foods were marketed had failed.
Committee member Labour MP Austin Mitchell said the government's approach was "a bit like co-operating with drug dealers in the war against drugs"
During a Committee grilling of Hugh Taylor, acting permanent secretary at the Department of Health, Taylor was asked what help the food industry had provided. "Is it providing money, is it providing backing, or is it just saying: 'Go easy on us, we will try and put on a salad course at McDonalds'?" probed Mitchell.
Earlier, Taylor had defended the government. "If we can work with the food industry, that is the right thing. But if we have to take them on then we will take action."
The FDF defended the strategy. "We think it is only right that government should work with all the stakeholders on this complex issue," it said.
It added that events had overtaken aspects of the report, citing the recent measures by Ofcom, the communications watchdog, which included a total ban on advertising junk food in TV programmes of particular appeal to children.
But MPs maintained that government had yet to demonstrate much concrete action to change the way unhealthy food was marketed. The committee also criticised the way some leading retailers had chosen to opt out of the Food Standards Agency's labelling scheme.
The FDF said a lot of work was ongoing with labelling and guideline daily amounts. It said manufacturers continued to reformulate products and said that by the end of 2005 industry had spent £7.4bn lowering salt levels in products and £2.2bn lowering fat levels. "Manufacturers have been far from idle and this work is ongoing," it said.