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Hodgson: Food Industry Group Seminar

Food Industry Group Seminar

Thank you for inviting me to open your food industry group seminar.


Thank you for inviting me to open your food industry group seminar. Those of you sitting in this room, and the organisations you represent, have the collective power to change New Zealand's food environment - what is available to buy, how it is priced and how we purchase it.

There is a sense of urgency to make these changes in light of the obesity epidemic we are now facing.

Not only does the Government have great expectations of the Food Industry Accord but the international community is also watching with interest. The Accord featured on the global stage through the World Health Organization, in the 2006 WHO report "Preventing Chronic Diseases, a vital investment".

The obesity epidemic is already causing enormous social and economic cost to our society and we know the epidemic has not yet peaked.

We must prevent any further increase in obesity - especially in children. We must make it easier for New Zealanders to eat healthy food and be more physically active.

The results from the 2002/03 New Zealand Health Survey indicate that 35 per cent of adult New Zealanders are overweight and a further 21 per cent of adult New Zealanders are obese. Twenty-one per cent of our children 5-14 years are overweight and a further 10 per cent obese. The joint effects of diet on risk factors for chronic diseases are estimated to be responsible for about 30 per cent of all deaths. This compares with 18 per cent for tobacco and 10 per cent for physical inactivity.

Our obese adolescents are now suffering from type-2 diabetes at a rate not seen five years ago and it is possible that they might form the first generation to die earlier than their parents.

The Ministry of Health's response is the Healthy Eating - Healthy Action (HEHA) Strategy and Implementation Plan. Some of you here today assisted in its development and I thank you. This innovative plan identifies wider groups in society, including government agencies, non-government organisations and industries as important agencies of change.
Hon Annette King launched the Food Industry Accord in September 2004 - about the time that the HEHA Implementation Plan was completed. I am sure it is no surprise to this audience to hear that there were many in the health sector that were truly sceptical about the difference the Accord would make to the food supply in New Zealand.

I want you to prove these sceptics wrong.

Several weeks ago I met with Professor Philip James, an international obesity expert. He firmly believes the major issue in the development of obesity is the price, availability, and marketing of food. This applies right through the food chain from production through manufacture, to retail.

Here is my challenge to you:

"How can you improve the pricing, availability and marketing of healthy food?"

I congratulate you on the Advertising Standards Authority's recently completed review of the advertising codes of practice for children and food. Inclusion of the Ministry of Health's food and nutrition guidelines and HEHA is very important. I know the health sector will be watching this space with interest.

There are various initiatives underway - as mentioned in the Food Industry Group annual report to me late last year - but I am looking for significant change in the food supply, food availability and food marketing in New Zealand. I am asking you to go back to the actions highlighted in the HEHA Implementation Plan and make real progress on these actions.

One action listed in the HEHA Implementation Plan is the formation of a HEHA food industry group. I acknowledge that the current Food Industry Group is a step in the right direction but I would like to encourage you to widen your membership. I am thinking particularly of major producer groups, and wider representation from the retail sector.

There is a science in respect of food marketing practices, for example around positioning of products within supermarkets and "loss leading" with less healthy products. I am keen for changes to be made here.

Another industry-led action identified in the HEHA Implementation Plan is the provision of healthy nutritious foods to consumers at competitive prices. I am thinking here for example, about the price differentials between spreads such as margarine and butter, and full fat and lower fat cheeses and different cuts of meat. I am also thinking here about the mark up by retailers of vegetables and fruit. I challenge you to lead a review of pricing and price differentials and see what can be done to reduce the cost of healthy options for consumers. A small increase in vegetable and fruit intake across the population could have quite an impact on the nation's health.

Another industry led action specifies reducing the fat, salt and sugar content of commercially prepared foods. I challenge you to not only make some changes to your products but to share some of the monitoring information you have about different food products and their purchasing patterns with the Ministry of Health. Combined with the data already collected by the Ministry of Heath it will enable a better picture to be obtained about how the food supply is changing - or if it is improving. It would be a tangible way to show you are serious about improving nutrition and reducing obesity.

Other areas where the food industry has a very important role are the accurate portrayal of portion sizes and serving sizes on packaging as well as providing readily available nutrition information about fast food or meals eaten outside the home. Accurate serving size information enables consumers to make informed choices.

Yesterday I came upon an article describing the range of work undertaken in Europe by the food industry in response to the obesity epidemic. The article describes the range of forces contributing to the situation and possible responses and solutions. If I could quote from that article when it says:

"In Europe, regulation - and voluntary industry responses to try to pre-empt regulation - seem more likely to drive change in the food sector."

I am not averse to considering regulation in the area of food marketing and supply. If you look at my work in previous portfolios you will see that I am not afraid to use legislation where necessary. But I also recognise the place of industry self-regulation. I would like to think that regulation is a last resort and so I ask you to rise to the challenge you have set yourselves in the Food Industry Accord and assist with making healthy food choices the easy choices for all New Zealanders.

I wish you well for the rest of your seminar and I look forward to hearing of the changes you are making to our food environment.


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