Health secretary Andrew Lansley launched an impassioned defence of the Responsibility Deal this week, and singled out the food and drink industry for praise in helping tackle obesity and binge drinking.

Days after The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges called for the government to scrap the Deal, claiming it was “inherently flawed”, and academics at Oxford University renewed calls for a so-called ‘fat tax’, the health secretary accused them of sniping unfairly while companies took action that was demonstrably improving health.

Speaking at the FDF’s President’s Reception this week, Lansley claimed: “More has been achieved in promoting improving public health in the last two years than in the previous decade.”

“Putting sectors of industry, health, patient representative groups, consumer bodies and government around the table together has enabled us to make more progress, more quickly.”

Among the achievement singled out by Lansley were: recent announcements by retailers and suppliers aimed at slashing five billion calories a day from the nation’s diet; pledges to remove a billion units of alcohol from the shelves; the elimination of artificial trans-fats; alcohol unit labelling up from 15% to 80%; 8,000 high-street restaurants displaying calorie information; and a challenging but realistic target for salt reduction”.

“There are some who claim easy regulatory solutions exist where they do not,” said Lansley. “We have set the most challenging public health objectives of any country, with the creative, positive participation of industry. And we will not treat the food and drink industry as if it was comparable to the tobacco industry.

“There is no harm-free level of smoking. But there is such a thing as a healthy diet,” he added.