We highly recommend you set aside a chunk of time to read this excellent new paper published in BioMed Central Public Health by public health and nutrition professionals from Australia’s Deakin University.
The paper, titled “Systematic Examination of publicly-available information reveals the diverse and extensive corporate political activity of the food industry in Australia,” lays out the multiple strategies powerful food companies — specifically the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Nestlé, and Woolworths — employ to influence policy.
- “The most frequently observed strategy during data collection was the ‘information and messaging’ strategy. This strategy mainly consists of sharing information and framing messages that depict the industry in a positive way.”
- “All five food industry actors highlighted their economic importance in efforts to convey a positive image for their industry. For example, in 2012, in its response to a consultation on nutrition, health and related claims, the AFGC noted that it “makes a substantial contribution to the Australian economy and is vital to the nation’s future prosperity.”
- “Data illustrated that all five food industry actors framed the debate on diet- and public health-related issues in ways that: shift the blame away from the food industry (the food industry actors rather focused on personal responsibility and on the lack of physical activity); promote the good intentions and stress the good traits of the food industry (for example, the fact that the food industry ensures food safety); emphasise the food industry’s actions to address public health-related issues (including the fact that the food industry promotes healthier lifestyles; stress that the food industry is an important part of the solution, is an expert on diet- and public health- related issues, and provides healthy/healthier versions of its products).”
- Common strategies include: funding research (including through academics, ghost writers, own research institutions and front groups); paying scientists as advisers, consultants or spokespersons; citing research that has been funded (directly or indirectly, through third parties) by the industry; disseminating and using non-peer reviewed or unpublished evidence; participating in and hosting scientific events; providing industry-sponsored education materials.”
- “Publicly-available information showed that Coca Cola, Nestlé and Woolworths have established relationships with health organisations. Partners included the Sports Dietitians of Australia; the Dietitians Association of Australia; the Heart Foundation; the Glycemic Index Foundation; and Nutrition Australia.”
- “Most of the strategies and practices identified by this study were similar to strategies previously identified as being used by the food industry in other countries. The findings also reflect strategies used by actors in other industries, such as the alcohol and tobacco industries.”
- “Future investigations could focus on a broader range and a larger sample of food companies, or could focus on the international practices of the food industry actors selected for this study, using their global websites. The activities of third parties that have direct financial or legal associations with the five food industry actors included in this study were not monitored per se, although a list of ‘front groups’ that have direct ties to the industry were identified during the study and their activities monitored to some extent. Other third parties, such as public relations firms paid by food companies and that might lobby politicians on behalf of the company, for example, were not included in this study.”