Regulation of Harmful and Addictive Substances (like Food and Beverages)

Should parents form a collaborative group with local drug manufacturers & dealers to educate teens about using drugs responsibly?

Should we work with drug manufacturers, encouraging them to reformulate, decreasing the potency & addiction potential of their offerings?

Should we introduce a labelling system that shows exactly what the contents of the snaplock bags are?

That’s the government approach to our current ‘lifestyle disease’ crisis (read: ‘crappy processed food’ crisis). With this approach to addictive drugs or food, we could probably save a few lives, but…I think we’ll still have some serious problems!

See below, my recent email / rant to health minister Greg Hunt & the reply from Senator Bridget McKenzie (For the record, I’ve never been an email ranter – this is a first). 

My email:

“Hi Greg – I have some questions for you. I hope you can help.

I’m a mother of teens, I run a health food business & I have years of experience working in both the health food industry & in pharmacy, helping Australians who are trying to lose weight, get healthy & battle chronic conditions caused largely by poor diet. I am really concerned about the health issues kids of today will begin to face as a result of what I can only describe as government negligence in the control of food & beverage availability throughout our country.   

Who regulates the availability of food & beverage products throughout Australian retail stores – is there even any regulation of what products are allowed onto supermarket shelves? Can I please have email / phone contact details & a description of their role within the preventative healthcare care / food regulation systems?

Why are food & beverage products with known addictive qualities that are now known causes of metabolic syndrome, diabetes & heart disease still available for purchase by minors & people incapable of making an ‘informed purchasing decision’?

I’m interested in the legalities – I can see from your bio online that you’re well acquainted with the Aussie legal system. I’m wondering, is this generation of children / teens going to be able to (rightly?) sue the government who has allowed this practice (harmful & addictive substances being made readily available to & marketed towards minors) to continue, for damages resulting from their diabetes, obesity & cardiovascular disease? These illnesses are now known to be caused largely by addiction to & overconsumption of these heavily sweetened products, which are addictive due to their high sugar content (& often also laced with other addictive substances like caffeine – things like energy drinks / ice coffee / cola drinks). Why today, in 2018 is a bottle of highly sweetened, nutritionally empty, caffeinated beverage still readily available for children & teens to purchase (in large quantities, daily – or even multiple times daily, if desired)? This is happening all over our disgustingly fat & sick country today. These products should not be treated any differently now to cigarettes & alcohol, given their known harmful health effects & addictive properties.

The sale of products of this nature should be regulated to protect young Australians (& take pressure off our healthcare system which is needlessly being drained, paying millions or even billions every year, caring for people with preventable, diet-induced illnesses).

I’d like to raise awareness & help the kids out there who are developing type 2 diabetes & cardiovascular disease as I write – the kids who will cost Australia billions over the next 40-60 years – because our government can not (?) / will not take the necessary action to protect them now.  This is particularly a problem among Australian indigenous communities. I feel that these kids should have every right to sue when they become chronically diseased…at what age can a child make ‘an informed choice’ about their health? At what age can a child walk into a supermarket or cafe & purchase a can or bottle of coke (or multiple bottles) every day?

Please let me know who would be best to contact in regards to this matter?

Thankyou.”

…ok so that was a bit of a rant, BUT…crappy products that nobody needs or benefits from (other than those making a big fat profit) are for sale on every corner making us big & fat. They are a MASSIVE contributing factor in the ‘lifestyle disease’ epidemic we face. It costs me money, it grosses me out, it makes me really sad & angry & yeah it puts me in the mood to have a bit of a rant!

So, I wrote that email, then forgot all about it until this lame-ass reply came through, which I feel compelled to share, because it is so lame.  Tell me what you think. Am I over-reacting? Or is this approach going to get us nowhere?

(Double click to read)

I was momentarily impressed as I opened the envelope, revealing the fancy letterhead, printed on thick, expensive paper, from someone with ‘Hon’ in front of her name. But I was completely unimpressed by the content. It basically tells me that nobody has the balls to take action where it’s badly needed.

My interpretation & commentary below

The government recognises the burden of disease associated with poor diet. (But seem totally happy to keep carrying it & paying for it with tax payers $)?

They appreciate my suggestion to impose limits on the availability of processed foods, however they prefer to educate, support & encourage Australians to adopt a healthy diet & lifestyle, not wanting to regulate what’s available for purchase in shops. (Parents, let’s fill the fridge with softdrink & lollies but read the kids a heap of health magazines & see what happens)…

They are committed to providing a safe food supply & ensuring consumers have access to sufficient information to make informed choices about food they purchase. (They also seem quite happy to place very unsafe food items in amongst that safe food supply, readily available for people incapable of making an informed choice about what they ingest & become addicted to).

FSANZ is the authority responsible for the ‘food standards code’ & determines the requirements for food sold in Australia & NZ. (FSANZ must have a very easy job, there really don’t seem to be many requirements when you spend an hour or so reading processed food ingredient labels in the supermarket)!

FSANZ requires labelling on energy drinks to communicate that the product contains caffeine, how much it has & that they are unsuitable for children, pregnant women & those sensitive to caffeine. (Ok so that makes the product ‘suitable’ for teenagers, men & the elderly who AREN’T sensitive to caffeine…there are not many of those, so how do these companies sell enough product to make them commercially viable? Hmm – maybe people aren’t reading / taking any notice of the labels? These products are actually only ‘suitable’ for people who want to waste money on addictions, get diabetes & die younger than they naturally should. Suggest a label change, though still doubt that people would read it). 

Food products are regularly checked for compliance. (Phew, lucky someone is working hard, keeping us all safe from our food. LOL).

Improving Aussie’s dietary patterns is a complex task, there are many contributing issues. We need a community-wide approach as well as individual behaviour change. (Yes, yes, yes & yes. But we also need to consider just removing some of the worst crap from our supermarket shelves)? Just start with regulating the supply of sugar-laden caffeinated beverages to kids / teens. They can at least choose their addictions when they are old enough to understand what addiction means).

The Government recognises that Australians are eating more processed foods, and they are doing a lot of things to help them get healthier. (They might be doing ‘a lot of things’….but are they neglecting to do the most effective things?)

Government is working with the food industry & public health groups, trying to promote healthier options & reducing saturated fat, added salt & added sugars. Some of their initiatives include:

‘The Health Star Rating’. Aimed at getting consumers to avoid foods high in salt, sugar & saturated fat, thus encouraging manufacturers to reformulate products, decreasing these ingredients in order to have a better rating. (The Health Star Rating is voluntary, so if your product is garbage, you can just ignore it. Plus – the system was developed in consultation with food industry & thus has little credibility. Do you really develop a regulating system in conjunction with the people you want to regulate?? This is pretty soft regulation. Give me an image of a depressed, morbidly obese person, covered in acne with an amputated leg slapped on the front of all soft drink cans & lolly packets any day, over a few stars on the front of ‘healthier-than-most’ cereal boxes. We need to be tougher on this, it’s got to be spelled out REALLY CLEARLY to the people who are still shoving this stuff into their shopping trolleys every week).

The Healthy Food Partnership’: a collaboration between the government, food industry & public health groups. Aimed at tackling obesity, encouraging healthy eating & empowering food manufacturers to make positive changes to their products. Everyone seems really committed to make this work. The aims are:

  • promote healthy eating, working towards improvement targets.
  • normalise healthy eating & encourage people to enjoy healthy foods.
  • make changes in education, food advertising, availability of foods through outlets & in food service, influence population behaviours…& ultimately rates of overweight & obesity.

(This is all well & good, but meanwhile – people are still dying & getting sick needlessly, & we’re all paying through the nose for their healthcare, & the expensive army of people out there getting paid to encourage, empower, influence & normalise. How about we just tell it exactly like it is ‘your kids will suffer from disease & die early because you keep buying X Y & Z for them to eat / drink each week, meaning the rest of Australia will be paying for your health care expenses)?

People are dying early – kids are not getting the chance to grow up healthy, 30% of them are on the road to obesity, diabetes, heart disease & early death before they even reach their teens. (No wonder so many are also depressed & anxious before they reach their 20’s). A major contributing issue is that the government allows food companies & retailers to fill our stores, trolleys & mouths with poor quality ‘food-like’ products that directly cause / contribute to the development of disease.  Millions (maybe billions) of tax dollars are spent on ads, promotion, education, liasing gently with food companies, caring for end stage diseases…we could save everyone a lot of time, money, hassle & resources (not to mention lives) if we just took a firmer approach & fixed the food standards to regulate some of these addictive & harmful substances that we clearly aren’t capable of consuming safely?

End of rant. Am I a health-nut psycho…or do I have a point here?

Leave me your thoughts in a comment below or send me an email…

Jeanie
jeanie@goodmix.com.au