Opinion: Fooling consumers

POSTED: 12/27/13 3:29 PM

Food is one the most discussed topics in 2013. Newspapers spent a lot of ink on it – from food waste to scandals with meat,, hanky-panky with quality marks and the effects of food on our health. Joris Lohman, chairman of the Youth food Movement examined the battlefield in an op-ed in the Dutch daily Trouw.

“Obviously companies in the food and agriculture sector reacted. They want to prove that they do everything possible to be transparent and progressive. Preserving is the key word. But preserving – in itself already an empty concept – is not something you do at the department for socially responsible entrepreneurship, or with a snappy web site or campaign. A socially sound green edge to the activities, and beautiful statements and promises about the future do not get us forward. When will steps be taken and who will be held accountable for them?

One of the largest problems for our health is that selling sweet, salt and fat food is much more profitable than selling the food people do need for a healthy lifestyle, like vegetables and fruit. While the food industry struts around with its socially responsible initiatives, the core business of the ten largest food companies in the world is the sale of sugared beverages, breakfast cereals, chips and snack bars.

There is nothing wrong with drinking a cola every now and then, but the fact that the food industry claims that these products fit in a healthy and balanced eating pattern, shows a total disdain for the consumer. Pies with lots of fresh cream also fit in a healthy and balance food pattern, but that does not mean you have to eat such pies every day, or that they have anything to do with healthy.

The food industry is clearly embarrassed with the inconvenient truth. Their business model is making people unhealthy. What is the answer to this situation? Of course – socially responsible initiatives. In this vein, Nestlé promises an ambitious worldwide salt-reduction. PepsiCo stimulates exercise among young people in Utrecht by working together with schools.

What am I supposed to think about this? Children are running laps in a school yard in a Pepsi tee short and when they have made it to the finish, they get a can of Pepsi – a mini can, of course with fewer calories – as a reward? To add insult to injury, Mars Foods proudly announces that it has managed to reduce the calories per mini Mars below 100. How many are there in one package?

The costs of an unhealthy eating pattern are presented to the healthcare system. Something needs to happen. The government has only limited options to tackle the food industry. The power of the shopping basket ought to be in the hands of the consumers but when the food industry decides to spend billions in marketing to fool consumers permanently, something is really going wrong. This will probably not apply to larger companies, but I do wonder how sustainable a business model is that does not take its clients serious at all.

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