If I ever decide to start a junk food company, I am moving to the U.K. The British government is being very generous with research funds that will help me come up with tasty munchies I can label “healthy.”
The Telegraph listed some of the foxes receiving money to check out the food henhouse. They included:
- GlaxoSmithKline, £189,340 to study the health benefits of polyphenols from fruit. That will help their Lucozade and Ribena products earn healthier status. It will, of course, not be enough to offset their fines of $750 million in 2010 for fraudulent claims, $240,000 in early 2012 for irregularities in the recruitment of babies for vaccine trials or $3 billion fine for another drug fraud in July 2012. Well, they probably needed the money after making only $9 billion profit on 2011 sales of $44 billion.
- Bernard Matthews, the giant turkey company, £223,060 “to develop new tests on farms for food poisoning bacteria.” This is the same company that in 2007 was caught on video subjecting its turkeys to some of the most shocking examples of animal cruelty and filthy conditions. The company has added a free-range line and made some strides toward energy sustainability, but still raises the majority of its birds in factory-farm conditions.
- PepsiCo, £246,669 to develop healthier snacks and an undisclosed amount to develop salt reduction technologies (with the help of publicly funded research from Birmingham University). This is the company fighting GMO labeling in California, exporting tooth decay to Ecuador and adding to the obesity epidemic with their sugared and diet beverages. The company earned a reported $66.5 billion in 2011 so definitely needs corporate welfare.
There are others on the list, but you get the idea.
Next: Governments Too Cozy with Junk Food Sector
Of course, the Brits are not the only government to shell out tax dollars to subsidize a food sector offering what Hank Herrera dubs MESS (manufactured edible substitute substances). The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Oliver De Schutter, took the food industry to task for creating “an obsogenic environment” and being “indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are accessible, and how they are marketed.”
Recently, PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine took on the food industry in its “Big Food” series. Describing their rationale for taking on the industry, the editors wrote:
The legitimization of food companies as global health experts is further fueled by the growing number of private-public partnerships with public health organizations, ostensibly designed to foster collaborative action to improve people’s health and wellbeing. And yet food companies’ primary obligation is to drive profit by selling food. Why does the global health community find this acceptable and how do these conflicts of interest play out?
Government subsidy of corporate research is another rabbit-hole experience worthy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Unlike publicly-funded research, the results will be proprietary rather than open to public scrutiny. The food “improved” thanks to taxpayer money will still be manufactured edible substitute substances rather than whole, fresh food.
De Schutter gets the last word here:
We should not simply invest our hopes in medicalizing our diets with enriched products, or changing people’s choices through health warnings. We need ambitious, targeted nutrition strategies to protect the right to adequate food, and such strategies will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right.
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Graphic from DonkeyHotey via Flickr Creative Commons; Photo from Thinkstock