>>Ruth kelly finds the industry an easy target


One of the most newsworthy pronouncements from the platform at this week’s Labour Party Conference in Brighton, at least as far as the national broadcast media and newspapers were concerned, was secretary of state for education Ruth Kelly’s decision to ban all ‘junk’ food and drink products from vending machines in schools.
Now, whatever your views on this issue (and I know it’s one that divides even those who work in our industry), what I find totally unacceptable is the fact that Kelly’s bold policy statement came a week before consultation on this thorny issue was due to begin, and 12 weeks before any decisions were supposedly due to be made. So much for engaging with all stakeholders in the food and health debate, eh?
Reading the coverage in the aftermath of Kelly’s speech just made me cringe. As a governor of a small infant school, where, I hasten to add, vending machines will never be allowed, I think there are a whole host of really important issues that Kelly and her team should be addressing. The fact that policing the contents of these machines was, apparently, the only policy statement she could talk about, smacks of desperation.
But it shows, yet again, how the government sees our industry as an easy target. You can imagine the conversation among the spin doctors, can’t you?
“Help,” says the first one. “We need to generate some great headlines at Brighton but we haven’t done anything positive for ages.”
“Don’t worry,” says the second. “Let’s just bash those nasty food and drink companies again. Everybody knows they are always up to no good.”
It was because of such thinking that we launched a campaign called Junk the Spin almost exactly a year ago. We felt then that the government was not engaging with you in the food and health debate. After the events of this week, you could argue plus ça change.
But we will not give up! This week we are launching a unique half-day event - one where we plan to bring together retailers, manufacturers and policymakers to discuss the progress made by the industry in the year since the government published its Health White Paper and identify what still needs to be done. You can read more about it on page five. Who knows, it may even kickstart a more sensible debate about food and health.
oh dear, here we go again!