Don't demonise the food industry for causing obesity
It is easy to blame big business for a change we don't like. So Rosemary Stanton's attempt in Crikey to blame the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) for proposed changes to the emissions trading scheme is understandable. But wrong. Instead, the real push to exempt agriculture comes from farmers and Coalition voters in rural seats.
Agriculture and basic food processing are exempt from the European and proposed US ETS schemes. Yet the current Australian CPRS includes a provision to leave agriculture out for three years, with a view to including it after that period. If Australian agriculture is included then the Farm Institute estimates the total elimination of profitability for the livestock industry.
But -- in an era when food companies are suddenly now seen as enemies of the public good -- blaming the AFGC makes for a better story. The proposed Coalition amendments seek to include primary food processing as a trade-exposed industry, and therefore able to access assistance. Primary food processing is abattoirs and milk processors, it is not the manufacture of breakfast cereal, soft drink or other packaged groceries made by the members of the AFCG.
Stanton says it is absurd to omit food from the ETS because the processing, packaging, transport and storage of processed food creates greenhouse gasses. Well none of these activities will be exempt, they will pay the carbon tax like everything else and food prices will rise because of it.
But the attack on the carbon footprint of grocery manufacturers is only a hook to get to Stanton's real agenda, demonising the food industry for causing obesity.
Apparently, all this choice is making us fat. The impressive statistic of obesity costing society $58.2 billion is often seen. That figure came from a study paid for by a diet drug company and commissioned by an organisation that receives grant money and donations based on government and donors' perception of a massive problem. Grocery and soft drink companies are not the only ones with a financial stake in this.
According to Stanton, "The more on offer, the more we buy, the more we waist and the more we waste." But Stanton and most higher-income women are not overweight. Most Australians are not obese and less than 10% have a BMI over 35, the level the most authoritative studies conclude is where serious health risks increase appreciably. Most Australians manage to refrain from obesity despite the choice on offer and the supposed pernicious efforts of the food manufacturers.
The real agenda is higher taxes for processed foods. But there is no evidence that taxing "bad" foods, those high in fat, sugar and salt, does anything other than raise revenue. The GST already taxes processed food and not fresh food, yet the growth in processed food consumption has continued unabated. Stanton callously dismisses the effects of a highly regressive tax on the poor without any evidence her approach would do anything other cause greater financial (and nutritional) hardship.
Morbid obesity is a serious health problem that needs targeted resources from the health system to combat. All the society-wide scatter-gun approaches, such a labelling, taxes, bans and cajoling do not address the serious, and usually multiple, health problems of the extremely fat.