Consultative Council Open Meeting Minutes - 17 October 2013

Open Meeting of the Food Safety Consultative Council on 17 October 2013 at 09:30 in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 2

Members Present

Ms Veronica Campbell (Chair), [VC]
Mr Cormac Healy, [CH]
Ms Paula Mee [PM]
Mr Martin Roper, [MR]
Ms Sinead Finnegan, [SF]
Dr Susanne Boyd, [SB]
Mr Dermott Jewell, [DJ]
Ms Breda Raggett, [BR]
Mr Ray Bowe, [RB]
Ms Maree Gallagher [MG] 

Apologies for Absence

Ms Margaret Leahy [ML]
Mr Tim O’Brien [TO’B]

In Attendance

Mr Raymond Ellard [RE]
Ms Eileen Lippert [EL]

1. Agree minutes of meeting of 16 September 2013

The minutes of the meeting of September 2013 were approved without amendment.

2. Matters arising

Matters arising will be dealt with at the next meeting.

3. Welcome and introductions

RE briefly welcomed and thanked everyone for attending the meeting and described the background of the FSAI and the FSCC. He then introduced Ms Veronica Campbell, Chair of the FSCC who explained that the purpose of the open meeting was to give members of the public and the food sector the opportunity to highlight issues of importance or concern to them in relation to food, which can be placed on the agenda for the FSAI for consideration and action where appropriate. Ms Campbell said that the theme of this open meeting “Who is responsible for what we eat?” was chosen because of its relevance in an environment where obesity rates are rising and where there are economic pressures on consumer spending. The open meeting allows current thinking and views to be expressed and debated. The format of the meeting would be a series of presentations followed by an open discussion between panel members and the audience. She looked forward to hearing opinions on where the responsibility for what we eat lies and the relative influences of food marketers, individual choice, access to available foods or Government regulation. She then introduced and welcomed journalist and broadcaster Ms Suzanne Campbell to act as the chair of the panel debate.

4. Presentations &  Panel Debate

Ms Campbell introduced to the audience of approximately 100 persons the three presenters:

  • Prof. Alan Reilly  - FSAI CEO
  • Prof. Michael Gibney, UCD
  • Ms Orlaith Blaney – McCannBlue

(a) Self-regulation versus Government regulation

Prof. Alan Reilly CEO said that responsibility for what we eat is a complex issue.  He noted that Ireland has the second highest rate of obesity in Europe. He referred to food consumption, economics and the influence of price/cost on dietary choice, the importance of social welfare allowance for certain sections of Irish society, initiatives to reduce obesity world-wide and the politics of the nanny state. He questioned the effectiveness of voluntary initiatives and spoke of the barriers to change of personal behaviour. Government intervention has changed personal behaviour in other areas such as smoking and the wearing of seat belts.

He speculated on the likely effectiveness of taxes on fat or sugar on dietary intakes, and spoke of the ‘helping hand’ theory and the ‘nudge’ theory.  In his view, historically, behavioural change programmes fail in Ireland and said people will change when they realise it’s about them. Concluding, he referred to the potential that modern popular technology such as smart phones could play in the war against obesity.

(b) What role does advertising play in consumer’s purchasing habits?

Advertising professional Orlaith Blaney from McCannBlue discussed the interaction of advertising and food consumption patterns.  She also noted the rising prevalence of obesity in Ireland where two in three adults and one in four children carry excess weight. The estimated cost of obesity in the Rep. of Ireland in 2009 was €1.13 billion.  Safefood research found that two in three parents believe they are responsible for levels of childhood obesity in Ireland.  There is a complex web of influences which can lead us to eat more than we need.  Advertising she contended was more about changing or maintaining the share of food market segments than a direct influence on food choices.   She suggested some actions which might be effective in changing dietary habits, These included  improved food labelling, recommendations on portion size to form part of labels,  greater awareness of the BAI children’s commercial code from a self-regulatory perspective, Government support for healthy eating initiatives in schools and some joint industry and Government initiatives

(c) Why do people eat what they eat?

Prof. Michael Gibney, Head of the Centre for Food and Health in UCD said that unlike other species, humans divide labour. Humans entrust our food supply to others, which creates a food chain, which will be subject to market forces and to food availability which makes it fickle in a way not seen for other species.  People also over-rule our biology, refusing food offered even when hungry because it might be bad manners, or declining a nutritious, wholesome dish, because it does not appeal. People he contended have a fundamentally different approach governing food choice, some aspects of which are learned and some inherited. He spoke about how food choices can lead to energy and nutrient imbalances, and genetic and environmental influences.  Fast food he argued is only responsible for a minority of calories but is held responsible for obesity. While obesity is often described as a modern epidemic, it is well documented in various ancient civilisations.  He illustrated his arguments with comparisons of obesity rates past and present and contended that state intervention in food quality and nutrition is not new, but intervention strategies need a very specific focus with targets that are attainable and measurable.

(d) Panel debate

Following the presentations the speakers were joined on the panel by:

  • Ms Colette Brown – Irish Independent
  • Mr Colin Gordon – Glanbia
  • Mr Kieran Murphy – Murphy’s Ice-cream
  • Mr Kevin Sheridan – Sheridan’s Cheesemongers

A lively debate ensued and amongst the discussions, the following issues and questions were raised:

  • The benefits of community gardens and other community led activities
  • The way of life has drastically changed in the last 15 years and there is a disconnection between food and consumers – they don’t always understand what good food is and how to eat properly
  • Technology  has had a huge impact on food – not just in terms of food innovation, but transport, etc. which means there is more variety of food out there
  • Food advertisements only account for 10 % of ads but food promotion has increased by one-third in the last few years
  • The life expectancy in Ireland is 80 for males and 84 for females and this is  higher than many countries and it needs to be acknowledged that some good work has been done
  • The fact that the cost of groceries has increased by 20% over the last few years was raised
  • There are many social issues surrounding childhood obesity
  • It was questioned whether  a ban on advertising to children some years ago had  any impact
  • The difficulty of eating well on a tight budget was discussed.  Also raised were the challenges of encouraging balance and moderation.  Also, money and knowledge are not the only obstacles – very often convenience is a factor, especially for working mothers.
  • Some of the panellists were of the view that there is far too much focus on processed food and no consideration is made of the amount of potatoes, cheese, meat and other foods consumed.
  • Sugar and fat taxes were discussed  and there were call for objective evidence that they were successful.
  • There was general agreement that for change to happen, it needs to be from the bottom up and not from the top down and the example of the smoking ban was cited – it all started with bar staff unions complaining.
  • People need incentives to change their behaviour and technology could be very useful in this regard
  • Food education needs to be in the school curriculum from senior infants and industry has a role to play here – this  it was claimed had a major impact on obesity rates in Finland
  • There are many elements working together but not connecting and a joined up Government approach is required
  • There is  not just one solution – industries need to connect as it requires a multi-pronged approach
  • One panellist commented that business and industry will react to what consumers want
  • Individuals have  to accept  some personal responsibility

The meeting then concluded as the debate ran over scheduled time. Ms Campbell thanked the presenters, panel members and audience for their lively participation.

Last reviewed: 20/2/2014

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