Vitafoods 2013

Food industry and regulators accused of ‘public health malpractice’

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health claim, Nutrition

Communication failure: Professor Paul Clayton slammed nutrition communication failures as 'Public health malpractice verging on gross negligence'
Communication failure: Professor Paul Clayton slammed nutrition communication failures as 'Public health malpractice verging on gross negligence'
The functional food industry and regulators have been responsible for public health malpractice verging on gross negligence for failing to adequately communicate the health benefits of good nutrition.

That’s the view of Professor Paul Clayton, from the University of Pecs in Hungary and a fellow of the Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour at Oxford University. Clayton said he was increasingly dispirited by the “sterility of the debate”​ between regulators and industry in the wake of the introduction of the health claims regime under the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

With many food firms frustrated at what they see as a complex, difficult and long-winded application process to secure an approved health claim for a product under the EFSA process, Clayton said the climate for discussion had taken a turn for the worse in the past year.

Speaking at the Vitafoods conference held in Geneva, he argued: “People are speaking in a language of mistrust and even contempt. I find it very discouraging.”

Commercial objectives

He told delegates that the stand-off was about more than the “granular approach” ​of the regulators versus the “commercial objectives of industry” because it was also a barrier to improving public health.

“We are now on negative watch,”​ he added. “If I were Moody’s or one of the other ratings agencies I would put the public health rating on junk, like so much of the food we eat.”

Clayton cited statistics showing that by 2030 another 76M people globally would be clinically obese and there would be a further 8.5M cases of diabetes.

By 2050 the figures would be even higher, he said, insisting the existing models for promoting changes in nutrition as a means of improving public health were clearly failing.

“We are over the edge but we haven’t looked down yet. The pharmaceutical model has clearly failed and there is so much evidence that changes in nutrition can make widespread improvements to health. It can reduce the risks of non-communicable diseases by 35% to 50%.”

Premature death

The collective failure to adequately communicate this has led to millions of cases of degenerative diseases and premature deaths, he added, stating that history showed that such diseases were not entropic or intrinsically linked to chronological ageing.

“There has been a failure to communicate this and make a synthesis between regulators and industry. It is public health malpractice; in fact it is chronic negligence. We have a duty to behave better.”

In his keynote address to delegates, Professor Ambroise Martin, the chairman of EFSAvs health claim panel, acknowledged that the “best approach was to consider the totality of diet”, ​but argued his panel was having to make rulings on very narrow health claims that formed “just a small part of this diet”​.

With regard to the relationship between industry and regulators that Clayton was so scathing about, Martin conceded that there had been a sea change in the context and processes for seeking a health claim. But he argued that food firms’ success hinged on them understanding what the panel required to make a positive ruling.

Related topics: Food Safety, Hygiene, safety & cleaning

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