The World Health Organisation, the body that recently tasted the wrath of the US sugar industry when it published a report into diet and health that set a ceiling of 10 per cent for sugar consumption in an overall diet, welcomed the food industry with open arms at a high-level round table meeting hosted by WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland last week.
Describing the meeting as "a positive beginning", Dr Brundtland said it formally launched what the WHO hoped would be an ongoing and constructive high-level dialogue with private sector companies.
CEOs and senior executives from major global food players, including Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kelloggs and Cadbury Schweppes, were assembled under one roof to discuss ways the food industry could work with WHO to encourage healthier diets and increased physical activity worldwide.
The move is part of a wider strategy by WHO to draw up a global initiative on diet, physical activity and health - due for presentation to the World Health Assembly in May 2004. The DG Food Industry Roundtable was an important part of this process, said Dr Brundtland.
At the meeting WHO confirmed the gruesome statistics that cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, respiratory disease, obesity and other noncommunicable conditions now account for 59 per cent of the 56.5 million global deaths annually, and almost half, or 45.9 per cent, of the global burden of disease. The majority of chronic disease problems now occur in developing countries. Unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use are among the leading causes, stressed the WHO.
Although further details about the event were not disclosed, it is surely with good faith that the WHO brought together high-flyers from the food industry to look at the statistics and discuss the role, if any, that the food industry could play in tackling unhealthy eating habits across the globe.
"We would like to see real moves to cut the amount of fat, sugars and salt in foods. We think that consumers have a basic right to know what they are eating and the effects it can have on them," Brundtland added.