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The Friday Issue: A political voice from the food industry

The relationship between big business and government has always been a highly charged controversial issue. Deals made between corporations and politicians often provoke negative public reactions, which are generally viewed as a conflict of interests, especially at times when the media are fanning the flames with damning sensational headlines.

The UK’s new Conservative government has recently come under fire, when the Guardian newspaper revealed how the health secretary Andrew Lansley solicited the help of McDonalds, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever and others, along with independent expert bodies, to assist in writing the country’s public health reform.

Professor Lindsey Davies, the President of the Faculty of Public Health, claimed they were “hopeful that engaging with the food industry will lead to changes in the quality and healthiness of the products we and our children eat”. But criticism from experts, journalists and from the public, has been swift in condemning the commercial motives of the Conservation government.

One member of the government’s advisory committee on obesity, Professor Tim Lang, has said “In public health, the track record of industry has not been good. Obesity is a systematic problem and industry is locked into thinking of its own narrow interests”.

With a far more dramatic and emotive delivery, the 2008 film Food, Inc. revealed a particularly unflattering glimpse of the corporate controlled food industry in the US and spoke of the deep involvement big business has with the making of the country’s food and health policies. And this is just the latest in line of exposés feature films rallying against the sociopolitical power of the corporate food industry.

But while large businesses often struggle against poor public reputations, the food we buy in the supermarkets and the prices we demand of such products are often only possible through high capacity manufacturing.  Further more, industry builds infrastructure, creates jobs and improves our economy, all of which are important governmental issues.

So what part should the food industry play in public policy making?

Should the companies that are producing our food have more of a political voice or should food and health issues be the domain of politicians and regulatory bodies?

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