Earlier this week a Federal Government commissioned taskforce relayed the results of research into preventative health strategies, providing an insight into the possible future of regulation for food and beverage manufacturers.
Some of the more significant recommendations included:
- the banning of alcohol sponsorship of sporting and major cultural events
- a call for further research into the possibility of higher taxes on unhealthy food and beverages
- a phasing out of junk food advertising on TV prior to 9pm
- a ban on alcohol advertising during live sport broadcasts
- regulation for front-of-pack labelling
- regulation to introduce calorie labelling on restaurant menus
- a minimum price for alcohol
- higher taxes on tobacco
A brief summary of the reactions from major players in government and industry is provided below:
The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon was non-committal as to how many of the recommendations the Federal Government would look to introduce. Instead, she said there would be further consultation and public debate to determine which of the 39 recommendations would be pursued. In other words, don’t expect anything to happen quickly.
“The Government will consider the Taskforce’s recommendations alongside those of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission,” she said.
Treasurer Wayne Swan said the Henry Tax Review would consider the prospect of higher ’sin’ taxes.
“We’ll take that onboard, but I don’t intend to tip my hand one way or the other. These are all important matters that are being considered through the Henry Review,” he told ABC Radio. “As you’re aware, it doesn’t report until the end of the year and then we go from there through next year’s budget.”
The Coalition was critical of the lack of action by the Federal Government. After commissioning the comprehensive review to assess health reform that lasted over a year, the Federal Government then kept the report behind closed doors for over two months - after which time they were unable to give any guide on whether they would accept or reject any of the recommendations.
“In the end, I suspect it’s part of a smoke screen which is deflecting from the Prime Minister’s commitment to fix public hospitals and the health system,” Shadow Health and Ageing Minister Peter Dutton mused. “And he’s broken that promise, of course. And we need to hold him to account for that because regardless of how many reports pile up on his desk he’s still not making the necessary changes or even announcing the adoption of one recommendation of the hundreds that are sitting on his desk.”
The Greens welcomed the report and called on the Federal Government to act quickly on the proposals.
“The Government now has a clear recipe for how to make a big difference to the health of all Australians. Their challenge now is simple - get down to it and do it,” said Australian Greens health spokesperson Senator Rachel Siewert. “The report makes some strong recommendations on tackling the big three health vices - tobacco, alcohol and junk food. We support the push for a greater emphasis on preventative action to reduce the long-term costs to our health and our health system and are very keen to see these recommendations put into practice.”
The Greens were particularly keen to see the tobacco excise and junk food advertising proposals receive parliamentary support.
Rob Moodie - Taskforce Chair
“This is the best opportunity in more than a generation to significantly improve Australia’s health,” Rob Moodie, who headed the Preventative Health Taskforce, told ABC Radio. “Get this right and we really can be the healthiest country by 2020.”
“Why act? Trends predict that because of obesity, life expectancy for our Australian children alive today will fall. We think this is unacceptable as a nation to leave this legacy to our children and to our grandchildren.”
“Australia is one of the lowest tobacco… lowest-taxing tobacco countries in the OECD,” he added. “In fact, it’s 16th out of 18th, ensuring that the average price of a packet of cigarettes is at about $20 within about three years.”
More research was needed into possible changes into taxation of alcohol and junk food.
“This is where we need to commission independent modelling, really to look for a rationalised tax and excise regime for alcohol that discourages the harmful consumption and promotes safer consumption,” he advised. “And to develop a public interest case for a minimum, or a floor price - of alcohol.”
VicHealth echoed the sentiments of the Greens, urging immediate action on the recommendations.
“There is no one silver bullet to tackling the rising health burden in Australia caused by tobacco, alcohol and obesity,” Chief Executive Officer, Todd Harper, explained. “The multi-faceted approach proposed in the Preventative Health Strategy is crucial to reversing the tide of chronic disease in this country.”
The health group was hoping the prospect of higher taxes on unhealthy products would come into fruition, with revenue then to be directed toward other health strategies. The labelling schemes and advertising bans also had their support.
Australian Medical Association
The AMA was very supportive of the recommendations from the report, arguing the cost of inaction was too much of a burden on the health system.
“Many of the measures proposed by the Taskforce reflect AMA policy on obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, and Indigenous health, and will deliver health benefits to the community,” AMA President Dr Andrew Pesce advised.
Mark Champion, Executive Director of the Advertising Federation of Australia suggested the report was “more of a political statement than an attempt to limit marketing to achieve health outcomes”.
ACMA, the advertising watchdog, said that they believed there was a lack of evidence linking junk food advertising to obesity. They were pleased with the initiatives made by some food manufacturers voluntarily and were keen to see the end of cartoon characters being used to promote unhealthy food to kids. However, a blanket ban on unhealthy food ads until 9pm was not deemed necessary.
Sport and alcohol industry bodies were dismayed with the recommendation to ban alcohol sponsorship of sporting events.
Stephen Swift, of the Brewers Association, told The Australian that policies must be “squarely based on demonstration of the facts, not just demonisation of an industry and its consumers”.
The leading representative of food and grocery manufacturers said the industry was ready to tackle the challenges of the report. Main concerns were seen to be the possible introduction of a tax on unhealthy food and the recommendation for a phase out of advertising such food prior to 9pm.
“Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing sector welcomes these preventative health challenges and has already made strong inroads in these areas with a number of self-regulated measures including front of pack food labelling, an advertising to children initiative and the reduction of salt and trans-fats in processed foods,” AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said.
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