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Introduction

(Nestle, 2007, pp. 1-30) sets the stage for the argument that food producers/retailers are contributing to the unhealthy diets of Americans. The huge USA food industry which can feed everyone in the country twice over as well as the affordability of the food to the average American gives rise to an extremely competitive food industry. This is an extremely interesting book on the daily routines of our lives, so common and routine that we normally see it as the norm and will not go into details or thoughts over what is happening.

The book exposes the food industry’s practices of using legal political processes to obtain government and professional support to sell food that are less than healthy for the consumers. The book argued that the government had given in to the food industry so much that it cannot implement policies detrimental to the food industries, for instance, eating of less meat or limitations of sugar. The intense lobbying, coupled with the targeting of the youth, usage of schools to sell junk food, manipulating phrases such as “functional” food in order to sell junk food and the poorly regulated food supplement markets contribute to the unhealthy diets. It has also sought to give a definition of the importance of a healthy diet and the ways from which the food industry causes such a diet to be slewed in the manner they wanted.

Food Industry versus Consumer Choices

WHO and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) recently developed new science-based nutritional guidelines (World Health Organization (2003). However, even before the implementation, food industry segments that are affected started lobbying against the guidelines. (Brownell & Horgen, 200) had similar information with regards to lobbyists preventing the implementation and efforts to dismiss public health message on obesity basing their arguments on questionable science and lack detailed arguments. Lobbying against public policy is a blatant attempt to circumvent the efforts of the public health boards to lead consumers to a healthy diet. Instead, such lobbying directly affects the efforts of the public authorities as well as health professions and contributed to unhealthy diets in a deliberate way. Consumer choices are definitely free individual choices, but these are manipulated by the food industry who should take the entire blame for the erroneous messages of diet they are trying to convey to the public in order to fatten their bottom lines.

Consumer choices as an excuse for the food industry is hence weak and is totally unethical when it comes to the misleading of children towards an unhealthy diet. (Simon, 2006) showed that the food industry cannot be trusted in the children’s interest and the abuse fall broadly into the following categories: “(1) lobbying to undermine school-based nutrition policies, (2) deceptive marketing of so-called “healthier products,” and (3) misleading public statements of corporate marketing policies related to children.” Marketing gimmicks are not easy for adults to differentiate and given the more and more savvy marketing tactics by the media in general and the food industry in particular, adults are often taken in by misleading advertisements, not to mention children. There are zero excuses for the food industry’s targeting of the children segment of the consumer food market, no matter how lucrative it is.

There is a lack of Corporate Social Responsibility in how food industry promotes their products. Taking into account the daunting number of choices for a typical food product, the further development and labeling of “functional” food caused even more confusion at the expense of the consumers. One of the earlier issues on such food was that of the baby formula controversy. Developed in the 1920s, the baby formula was marketed with great success in the developed world and the success story was attempted at the least developed countries (LDC) when the developed nations’ markets were saturated. “The literacy of these consumers in LDC was sufficiently low to present the possibility of misuse of these products. Thus, infant mortality and morbidity increased because of malnutrition and illness, spawning the infant formula controversy (Baker, 1985). The new “functional” food label strives to attract the more sophisticated consumers from the First World nations who would otherwise be put off from the old marketing gimmicks.

Conclusion

From all aspects of the food industry’s behavior, it can be seen that one trend is common, that is to be profiting at the expense of the consumers’ ignorance or confusions. From the Least Developed Nations to that of the First World, food industries have been predatory in their practices of marketing their products to the ones who are most vulnerable to their marketing efforts and not to those consumers who are in real need of their products. They had ignored the real needs of societies, not considering the consequences of their marketing efforts in causing malnutrition in the least developed nations or causing obesity in the developed nations. Their marketing methods and behavior changed according to country and according to the development status of the country in question, but one thing remain constant in their pursuit, and that is the pursuit of profits for their stake holders at the expense of the general public and consumers in general. To put the blame on consumers’ choices is nonsensical, given that the most astute of consumers can be fooled by the constant framing of the food industry’s products in their mass advertising. This is not to mention the vast majority of consumers with average knowledge of food and consumption as well as LDCs who simply do not have the knowledge to escape from the media crutches of the food industry.

Overall, this is extremely valuable reading that allows us to think beyond what is going on with our normal lives and try to change the unhealthy habits that are induced through advertising and marketing campaigns instead of what is actually good for us.

References

Baker, J.C. (1985). The international infant formula controversy: a dilemma in corporate social responsibility. Journal of Business Ethnics, 4, 181-190.

Brownell, K., & Horgan, K.B. (2003). Food fight: the inside story of the food industry, america's obesity crisis, and what can be done about it. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nestle, M. (2007). Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. University of California Press: Berkley (CA)

Simon, M. (2006). Can food companies be trusted to self-regulate? an analysis of corporate lobbying and deception to undermine children’s health. Center for Informed Food Choice, 14(1), 171.

World Health Organisation, (2003). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. Geneva. WHO Technical Report Series No. 916.


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