Food firms back new £5bn public health plan

By Dan Colombini

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Public health, Health care

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said he wants to create a new "public health service" for the UK
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said he wants to create a new "public health service" for the UK
Food manufacturers have welcomed the government’s plans to hand local authorities new responsibility for public health, which will see more than £5bn handed out to curb issues such as obesity and binge drinking.

Food firms have backed health secretary Andrew Lansley’s proposals, which include a focus on preventing illness, rather than dealing with the consequences, as he seeks to create a new “public health service​” for the UK.

Terry Jones, director of communications for the Food and Drink Federation, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “There is some really good progress here. It complements what food manufacturers are already doing and what the Department of Health does on a national scale. This is a mechanism that can really tackle some of the hotspots in our industry.

“One of the great difficulties has been how to engage with small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). And for the first time in a long time, we now have a mechanism to engage with SMEs and move forward​.”

Concerns

Jones highlighted issues around the use of oils and fats that include trans fatty acids (TFAs) as an on-going “hot spot​” for the industry. He said that there were still concerns that many consumers were regularly eating products that still contained TFAs but that the new plans would help to address the problem.

From April 2013, councils will be given a ring-fenced budget, a share of about £5.2bn, which they can spend depending on the needs of the area. Those councils that make improvements will be rewarded with a further cash incentive.

Under the government’s new plans, local authorities for the first time since 1974 will also devise their own methods for promoting public health issues.

Public health is currently the responsibility of primary care trusts. But these are set to be abolished in 2013, with the introduction of GP consortiums.

Lansley’s plans have been slammed by opposition politicians, however. They have accused the government of building a “smokescreen​” to mask a growing crisis in healthcare and wider issues affecting the food industry.

Shadow public health minister, Diane Abbott accused the government of failing to demonstrate how the money could be effectively ring-fenced. She also expressed concern that “cash-strapped​” councils may divert the funds to deal with other issues such as social care.

Healthy lifestyle choices

Like so many of this Tory-led government’s policies”, ​she added. “This is reminiscent of the 80s and 90s, with the government standing on the side-lines, blaming people for their lifestyles instead of creating the conditions that enable people to make healthy lifestyle choices.

“Lansley's claims for his re-organisation of public health are hollow. The truth is that the cuts in public spending overall, and the chaos and confusion caused by the NHS reforms, mean that today's announcement just masks a growing crisis in healthcare. These proposals are dead on arrival​.”

Her reaction was echoed by shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh. Speaking ahead of Labour’s debate on rising food prices today (January 23,) she accused the government of being out touch with families who were feeling the pinch from higher food bills.

She said: “The Tory-led government are out of touch with families feeling the squeeze from higher food bills and falling incomes. It is an utter disgrace that even though we are the seventh richest country in the world we face an epidemic of hidden hunger, particularly in children​.”

The government needed to bring in a Groceries Code Adjudicator with real powers to tackle unfair practices in the retail sector, and start defining and measuring food poverty if the nation is to tackle it effectively, according to Creagh.

The labour Party will today be debating in the House of Commons on the issue of food prices, which it claims have risen by more than 4% over the last year.

Labour is now calling on the government to bring forward proposals for the Groceries Code Adjudicator to ensure fairness across the food supply chain. It also believes that the Adjudicator should have the power to penalise retailers and urged the government to work with the retail sector to provide more responsible, transparent pricing to offer genuine value for money for consumers.

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