European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Address to the Members of the European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical
Activity and Health
In its initial mandate, the Platform foresaw a review allowing any necessary reorientations in 2006. It is now almost one year that we launched together the Diet, Physical Activity and Health – European Platform for Action. We established it as formal and open process, bringing together players willing to enter into binding and verifiable commitments that could help to halt and reverse current obesity trends.
As you just tabled your commitments for 2006, we have an overview of how you have responded to the challenge of the fight against obesity to date, and I consider it is the right moment for a first exchange of views on the development of this process. This is why I invited you today for this “tour de table”.
I do not expect that we now discuss the impact of the Platform initiatives, we will come to that at the end of this year, but that we examine together the process and then have an exchange on how you evaluate its development.
Before hearing from you, let me first give you my first impressions. Overall, I have the feeling that the Platform is going in the right direction. Nevertheless, I consider that there is still reasonable room for progress.
From what I can see, the first objective of the Platform has been attained. Since one year, it worked as a common forum for all interested actors at European level where they can explain their plans to contribute concretely to the pursuit of healthy nutrition, physical activity and the fight against obesity.
I see as a really positive outcome the fact that at regular intervals the Platform brings together for debate organisations which, in the past, have tended to avoid sitting at the same table. It is certainly among the first occasion at the European level, that we could see the food industry sharing discussions with doctors associations, those representing specific diseases, and consumer groups. I do not underestimate the potential benefits from these exchanges.
This open dialogue has contributed to a visible change of attitude in the industry which appears actively seeking to do its part. Recently, we have seen the development of initiatives by big companies (Mc Donalds, Nestlé, Coca-Cola) to be seen as “nutritional friendly”. This is already a first positive step.
Of course, I would not say that this all is the direct outcome of the Platform process. Member States have been very active in the nutrition field and some of them such as Hungary and Spain have started to setting up similar initiatives to the Platform at national level where the commitments from industry are very much detailed and focus on certain issues like reformulation, advertising or nutritional labelling.
I would also consider that the Platform has been successful in involving other Commission services in the fight against obesity. The Commission services reported to me about your constructive and fruitful discussions with the Directorates General for Education and Culture, for Research and for Agriculture. This is all the more important as we know very well indeed that we cannot win the fight against obesity in health or food policy alone: a whole series of other policies have to contribute.
We also have secured the agreement of Sports Ministers to instruct their ministries to offer you support on physical activity initiatives, and we have growing recognition that Education Ministers also need to be involved.
Focussing on the 96 commitments you submitted, I would have a more contrasted view from what I could see so far. They vary in size from small, very-focussed, local initiatives in one country that affect a few hundred people to Europe-wide, multi-factorial initiatives that may affect the whole EU population.
They vary also in terms of scope from being vague and general like initiatives aimed at influencing policy makers to more concrete commitments like not advertising drinks high in sugar to children under 12 years.
Of course I do not underestimate the efforts required for trade associations at EU level to reach compromises on commitments with their members at national level and I note the potential of the initiatives from some players (like the industry of beverages or advertisers), but there is still room for more tangible actions in domains such as reformulation, size portion, or commercial communication.
A number of your proposals for initiatives aim at trying to change consumer behaviour by providing information. I see that certain industry Members (led by CIAA) have committed to developing a Healthy Lifestyles Public Information Advertising Campaign addressing children. Such partnerships and joint efforts of members are welcome. But I would nevertheless recommend that such initiatives are designed in close cooperation with the public health sector and in coordination with the national authorities.
A number of initiatives are focussing on promoting healthy lifestyle making use of the internet. I noted the multi-lingual initiative of the European Food Information Council (EUFIC).
In the healthy lifestyles domain I noted the commitments focussing on fruit and vegetables such as the Food Dudes Healthy Eating Scheme, the Finnish Heart Association’s campaign in primary schools or - with a different approach – Freshfel’s pan-European logo to encourage children to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables. Such initiatives are promising in terms of improving children’s long-term behaviour concerning consumption of fruit and vegetables.
I noted that there are also initiatives tabled involving direct interactions with consumers such as the initiatives of Eurocoop or the European Heart Network.
I see that only a few initiatives have a focus on physical activity, tabled mainly by the Heart Associations. This is to me a domain where more needs to be done.
In the field of advertising and marketing I note that the industry are committed to having common Marketing Communications Principles in force in 80% of the Member States by the end of 2007 and that they will cover all marketing communications (television, radio, press, cinema, internet, sponsorship, etc.), including such activities in schools.
I also see as positive the fact that these processes include a means of stakeholder consultation and involvement in code drafting and that the participation of non-industry, independent experts in complaint adjudication is now foreseen.
I particularly noted the commitment by UNESDA on marketing, advertising, commercial communication and promotions. This not only as it aims at protecting children under 12 year but also because of the fact that it is accompanied by proposals for a range of key performance indicators to enable monitoring of the actions. This is so far not the case for all your commitments.
Regarding Nutrition Information/Nutrition Labelling, I see that there are a number of commitments by companies to voluntarily include nutrition information on their products.
I am also looking forward to the impact of initiatives like the one of the Members of the European Modern Restaurants Association (EMRA) aiming at giving product information to help consumers make informed nutritional choices.
I also note that the CIAA intends to develop a common framework, suitable for further adaptation at national level, for an information/education package aimed at informing consumers on how to interpret nutritional information and nutritional claims.
In the areas of Product Development / Reformulation / Portion Sizes, I note the commitments from EMRA and from the European Federation of Contracting Catering Organisations (FERCO) aiming at offering balanced menu choices and to endeavour to reduce levels of fat, salt and sugar in products.
I see that the UNESDA members have committed to increasing the number of new beverages with low or no-calorie and of light versions of existing beverages and that they will also look at the choice and availability of individual packaging sizes and pursue, where appropriate, cup downsizing to help reduce individual over-consumption.
From this first review it appears to me that they are some promising initiatives relevant to the goal of the Platform, but still some questions emerged from my first analysis I wish to have your opinion on:
o Is that enough to respond to the public expectation created by the Platform?
o Are all the areas optimally covered?
o Do you see any area where you could combine efforts to augment potential impact?
o Are the tabled initiatives ambitious enough?
o Is the addition of these initiatives attaining the critical mass that would make the difference?
Last but not least, a key aspect of your initial engagement was the fact that the commitments were to be measurable. So far, for a large majority of your initiatives, monitoring and evaluation provisions are not very well developed, or in many cases even non-existent.
This is an area where I have some serious concerns. I know that you dedicated time and energy in view of stabilising in the near future the overarching monitoring structure and the criteria against which performances will be measured. But if no significant progress is made on that aspect I fear that this will undermine the credibility and consequently the viability of this process.
This is why in addition to the questions I just raised, I would also ask you to consider how you can help to ensure that all commitments will be fully credible and that their progress and impact can be monitored in a clear and convincing way.
Let me finally say that we are just at the beginning of a process, and I do recognise that an exercise like this, as well as a number of the specific actions you propose, takes time. But we will also have to realise that the first anniversary of the creation of the Platform will be an important point where stock will be taken of developments and progress.
There may also be areas where you can go further as a platform as a whole – I welcome in this respect your discussions about a possible joint commitment of the Platform members as employers to improve health at the workplace.
This is why I think that we should be clear in our analysis and of the next steps which have to be taken, in terms of
o the scope and focus of the commitments,
o the monitoring and evaluation arrangements and
o in view of obvious areas where more progress is possible.
But let me now give the floor to you.