Source: University of Auckland, 24 January 2017
Lobbying and many other tactics from the junk food industry to
defend their products and sway public policies are commonplace and
influential, according to University of Auckland global nutrition
expert, Professor Boyd Swinburn.
He was co-author of a just published, Australian study that
interviewed high-level people, including former politicians and
civil servants with first-hand experience of these corporate
The study was published in the latest Australian and New Zealand
Journal of Public Health.
"The same tactics will be occurring in New Zealand and this
would explain the very slow progress in using public policies to
create healthier food environments," says Professor Swinburn.
"The junk food industry has well-oiled and well-funded machinery
to block policies which might threaten their profits," he says.
"This explains New Zealand's lack of progress on policies such as
taxes on sugary drinks, restrictions on marketing junk food to
children and healthy food service policies for all schools and
"These are universally recommended by public health experts,
agreed to by countries in World Health Organisation resolutions and
have majority public support, but they just don't get
Professor Swinburn says the main tactics used by the industry
identified in the study included framing the solutions to obesity
in terms of personal responsibility, using private dinners and
other opportunities for lobbying politicians, cherry-picking and
promoting the evidence to suit their case, promotion of
deregulation and self-regulatory approaches, funding professional
nutrition organisations, sponsoring children's sport and nutrition
education materials, and personal criticism of public health
"The direct influence of the lobbyists on politicians ("we have
friends in high places") and the 'revolving door' of former
politicians working for the food industry and former food industry
employees working in government, were also common strategies
mentioned to influence food policies in favour of the industry," he
"Our research also came across examples of how proposed new
health policies and industry regulations were axed because
politicians didn't want to upset major political party donors.
"The food industry directly supports the major political parties
in many countries and this clearly buys them influence with the
politicians," says Professor Swinburn.
He also noted that all of these tactics uncovered by the study
were legal ways for a big business to improve its financial
performance, but the public should be concerned about how they have
been effectively used by the industry to prevent serious action on
preventing childhood obesity.
"In terms of solutions to counterbalance industry's power to
obstruct progress towards healthier food environments, the first
step is greater transparency - sunlight is a great disinfectant,"
he says. "Food industry disclosure of the funding they provide to
researchers, professional bodies, community groups, lobby groups
and political parties would be a good start.
"More stringent conflict of interest processes, lobby registers
and greater involvement of community and expert groups in the
policy process would also protect politicians and government
agencies from being unduly influenced by the commercial interests
of the junk food industry," says Professor Swinburn.
- 'Maximising shareholder value: a detailed insight into the
corporate political activity of the Australian food industry' was
published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public
Health this week. Melissa Mialon, Boyd Swinburn, Steven Allender,
Gary Sacks. All the authors are associated with the World Health
Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, at Deakin