Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001
BICHARD, KCB, MR
120. I was not thinking of just salt, I was
thinking of the refining process of white bread. We lose so many
of the nutrients.
(Mr Podger) I would not myself take the view that
in the context of a healthy diet it is essential not to consume
white bread if you actually have a preference for white bread.
I do come back to the general balance of the diet point.
121. To return to my original point on advertising,
do you think that advertising foods is balanced towards fresh
products or processed?
(Mr Podger) Because processed products tend to be
the higher value, there is little doubt that it is biased towards
processed products. In fact, as I indicated in an earlier answer
in relation to children's television on Saturday morning, it is
the products which are high in salt and sugar and fat which are
extensively advertised. There is little doubt that the present
market conditions result in little promotion of fruit and vegetables
which is obviously a key issue in terms of eating a healthy diet.
122. Some countries in Europe do not allow that
sort of advertising on Saturday morning children's programmes,
(Mr Podger) Yes, I do not say essentially I think
that should be the approach.
123. Why not?
(Mr Podger) It is actually a matter of judgement at
the end of the day on two points. You can have voluntary agreements,
which is what we are currently talking to the industry about,
or there could be statutory restrictions which is a matter for
Parliament to decide. The approach we are currently following
is one of seeking further voluntary agreements with the industry.
124. So for 20 years since commercial television
in particular came on stream in the 1950s we have allowed companies
to do what they are now no longer allowed to do in parts of Europe
to protect their children. We, however, are not successful in
protecting our children from acquiring those habits that the earlier
evidence to this Committee said have to be broken early.
(Mr Podger) Yes, and also sustained through life;
this is the other point. We cannot assume that what happened purely
in childhood dictates exclusively what people do thereafter.
125. Mr Leigh gave us some very interesting
and pertinent facts about cancer and about the cost of cancer.
We as Parliament have decided to take pretty decisive action on
that. Cigarettes cause cancer and we are banning advertising of
cigarettes. Why do we not take the same attitude to processed
foods which are stuffed with salts, fats and sugars?
(Mr Podger) The issue of the acceptability of measures
of those kind is essentially for Parliament to consider and to
reach a view on. That is perfectly proper.
126. Is your Agency going to make a recommendation?
(Mr Podger) Yes. Our view would be that the key point
is actually to appreciate the virtues of a balanced diet, but
having a balanced diet does not in itself rule out these products.
I also come back, if I may, to the issue I raised earlier about
sustainability. If we are trying to move people in such a direction
that they do not actually ever reach obesity at all, it is a question
of finding a diet which they can happily maintain throughout their
lives. One of the reasons why diets fail in the short term is
because they make demands on the individual which people feel
excessive. We need from them the ability to consume products which
they particularly enjoy. That is why it seems to me that a balanced
diet is the better way through.
127. How are you going to break through that
cycle of targeting children, promoting the products you yourself
were critical of to children through advertising when no budget
like that will advertise apples? Should we just levy pound for
pound? If they are going to promote processed foods the same company
should spend the same amount on advertising milk, preferably not
full fat, and fruit. You never see cauliflower advertised, do
you, or carrots or good healthy things like that, unless they
are stuffed in a tin with a mixture?
(Mr Podger) I have to say I have never seen cauliflower
128. To return to my point about cigarette advertising,
that is not seen by the majority in Parliament as praeconic. Banning
advertising of foods to children, targeted at children, sweets
as well as other things, is not seen as an infringement of civil
liberties in some of the big democracies in Europe. Why is the
Food Standards Agency not saying that the voluntary agreement
for so many years has been so much hot air, has allowed the wool
to be pulled over the eyes of Government and deflected Parliament
from taking tough action?
(Mr Podger) The Food Standards Agency, as I perhaps
might remind the Committee, has been in being since April of last
year. It not unreasonably takes the view that it would actually
prefer to test first of all with industry what it is prepared
to do to make a reasonable voluntary agreement. Clearly the outcome
of that will be a matter for public knowledge, the Agency would
reach a public view as to whether or not it considered that to
be satisfactory. It would then be for Parliament itself to determine
whether it wished to take the action you indicate.
129. Is the Agency a lion or a mouse?
(Mr Podger) I think if you asked those who negotiate
with the Agency you would find they do nothing but complain so
I take from that the view that we must be a lion.
Mr Griffiths: I certainly hope so.
130. To give us a comparison, what is the cost
of ill health from smoking in terms of the cost to the NHS, the
wider costs in terms of days lost at work and smoking related
(Mr Crisp) I am afraid I am going to have to come
back to you on that. I do not have that piece of information here.
131. Where does it compare to obesity.
(Mr Crisp) It is higher; it is the one thing which
132. But obesity is heading in that direction
because the number of people is high.
(Mr Crisp) Yes, from what we have calculated.
133. I, as a great fan of Ant and Dec, had to
sit through Saturday morning television and I think you said earlier
that 99 per cent of Saturday morning adverts are for foods which
are high in fat, sugar and salt. I do not have to sit through
cigarette adverts on a Saturday morning, do I? In fact I do not
have to sit through cigarette adverts on television at all.
(Mr Podger) Indeed and rightly not in my personal
134. What is the difference then?
(Mr Podger) The difference is that cigarettes are
inherently harmful. The products which are being advertised here
are not inherently harmful but would become so. One can argue
about the degree in relation to the problem in relation to cigarettes.
Therefore there is clearly a qualitative difference in what you
are talking about. I do think that in all these issues of banning
it is at the end of the day a societal judgement as to the extent
to which you are prepared to go down the line of denying the free
availability of choice through advertising as against the damage
done. I do have to stress to you that the fundamental difference
is that the products themselves are not damaging. They become
damaging if they form an unbalanced diet. It is strongly our view
as an Agency that a key point is actually not to project images
which give an erroneous characteristic to the products. That is
135. But 99 per cent of adverts on a Saturday
morning are for foods which are high in fat, sugar and salt. That
is not a very balanced view, is it? I cannot remember the last
time on a Saturday morning, that I saw an advert for fresh fruit
(Mr Podger) No, but equally if you or I or a child
eat one item of confectionary which they enjoyed, they would not
thereby be putting themselves at risk. The risk comes if in fact
they have a diet which is excessively concentrated in these products.
136. You are making the argument for cutting
down on cigarettes rather than the message which we are putting
out now which is that the best route forward is to stop smoking.
(Mr Podger) No, with respect, in relation to cigarettes
the best thing by far is to stop smoking. I am not making the
argument for cutting down, it is qualitatively different.
137. I am struggling to find the difference
between the two views, to be honest, but I want to move on.
(Mr Crisp) I have the figure you wanted. It is £1.6
to £1.8 billion. It is three to four times as much as obesity.
Obesity is number two.
138. Could we go back to the Chairman's questions?
I thought you misheard one of his questions when you went on to
list the causes of obesity. I think what he was getting at, which
is what I want to get at, is why has there been such a delay in
tackling such a major problem? What have been the causes of the
delay as opposed to the causes of obesity?
(Mr Crisp) I am not sure there has been a particular
delay inasmuch as this is something which has been growing rapidly
as a problem over the last few years. Over this period we have
seen more action happening on it, as is happening in other countries.
139. Why have you seen more action? Because
we are recognising the problem and therefore it is a pragmatic
approach? Is there anything we have done in this country, for
example, which has made it now more effective for us to tackle
obesity? I am thinking about things like, for example, joined-up
government or the fact that the NHS is less fragmented so you
can deliver a national plan more effectively?
(Mr Crisp) I do think that we are very clearly saying
that we are in the business of promoting health and that health
is about health services, but it is also about the wider determinants
of health. You will have seen considerably more action more recently
in working across departments as has been commented on here in
terms of the overall approach. The reason it is more of a priority
is that the prevalence of obesity doubled in a very short period
so it has come up our priority list. We are tackling it with the
two approaches of the much more clinical approach, which is dealing
with patients when they are obese and working across government
on the preventative issues.