Food, adverts and the private sector

I thought Andrew Lansley’s decision to stop the £75 million a year advertising campaign lecturing us on what to eat and not to eat would be one of the least contentious cuts. On Friday night the Any Questions audience, egged on by Margaret Hodge and John Harris from the Guardian, contained many who felt this was crucial to our survival as a nation. In their world people will eat the wrong things, get fat and ruin their lives, unless a caring government spends some money on telling them they should not do so.

I explained that the government was inviting the food and retail industries to spend some of their large advertising budgets on consumer advice on healthy diets and lifestyles, as some already do. This was a blue rag to the socialist bulls. The laughed and scorned the food and retail companies, and argued that you could not trust such institutions to undertake this crucial public interest role. They seem to imply they don’t mind if their consumers become fat and suffer the consequences of poor diet and cannot be trusted.

I pointed out that food manufacturers and retailers in the UK produce a stunning choice of foodstuffs in a wide range of outlets. I could have added that in many places now there is 24 hour access to good quality food in the stores. Choice, keen pricing and high quality have resulted from the competition we enjoy.

A part of the audience was underwhelmed, claiming to dislike the very shops they rely on for their daily bread and milk. It is their money and their choices which sustains the successful larger chains. Those chains keep close to the opinions of their customers, and are happy to include health promotions, and community good works in their approach.

Cancelling the government advertising would make a modest contribution to sorting out the deficit withough losing something of value. Margaret Hodge was unable to answer two simple questions. Why did obesity rise under Labour if these ads were so useful? How many people do what a government ad tells them to do, unless it is reminding them of a legal duty with penalties for non compliance?


  1. A.Sedgwick
    July 11, 2010

    I have frequently wondered whether the audiences in these programmes reflect balanced public opinion or recognise good arguments. The points you made are examples. I have given up watching/listening as a result.

    1. forthurst
      July 11, 2010

      The BBC's manipulation of public opinion by the planting of questioners and audience members with extremist leftwing sympathies needs to be thoroughly investigated. I suggest the Secretary of State finds out exactly what is going on and puts the information before the HoC. One thing is certain: if anyone perceived by the Marxist BBC to be 'dangerously rightwing' like John Redwood is to appear, he will be met with a barrage of hostility from all quarters which in no way squares with the reception he would receive from a typical cross-section of voters in the associated constituency. If these programmes do not properly reflect the voters of a constiuency, the precess of these programmes round the country is a deliberate fraud designed to shift the political discourse in an extremist leftwing direction.

      1. fearandloathing
        July 12, 2010

        Care to give an example of any "extreme leftwing sympathies" that were voiced by that audience?

      2. the tolmen centre
        July 13, 2010

        Mr Redwood has agreed to post a reply in which it is made completely clear how the audience for Any Questions last Friday (9th July) was selected – and that the BBC had no part in this other than to request that each of the main local political parties had a small allocation of tickets (only half of which were in fact taken up). The rest of the audience was made up of individual local residents who requested tickets – with no selection whatsoever by the venue – or by the BBC. Tickets were issued in order of application. As Mr Redwood so aptly commented to Mr Dimbleby in the programme – the truth is not always what we want to hear – but this is the true position in this case.

  2. JimF
    July 11, 2010

    I think your strong suit here is that the campaign clearly didn't work, so why carry on pouring money down that particular drain?
    As to should a government be telling folk what to eat and what not to? I'd say this dovetails neatly into the other question about schools. Why not spend the money instead on healthier school meals and informing children at that age about healthy eating through the information provided by good teachers? A lot more sensible than handing it to a bunch of advertising execs and probably more popular amongst your Friday night's adudience too.

  3. Alan Jutson
    July 11, 2010

    Anyone woud think food had just been invented.

    Manufactured fast type food availability, introduced as a time saving, sophisticated type of product, which is proclaimed to give wider choice and require less skill and time from wrapper to table, has complicated the purchasing of our foodstuffs, and increased our waistlines and profit margins for both the supplier and retailer.

    Customers are their own worst enemies, they want the convenience of shopping in one place, which is open all hours, where there is free parking, then moan when small idependent shops which specialise in particular produce, go out of business because they cannot compete with the giants.

    Just returnmed from France where yes, people use Supermarkets, but also use the local shops as well, no yellow lines, few parking restrictions, fresh food reasonably priced and staff serving you with a smile,

    Surely all you need is a legal requirement to put the contents and the percentages of all (processed) food on a label, which is large enough to read, so that people know whats it contains. The rest is down to self education.

    1. Alan Jutson
      July 11, 2010

      John, given that your site technicians are still limiting the length of comment, can they put a word/letter counter on stream, so that we know what our limit is in advance, and when we reach it.

      Whilst I appreciate that you do not want over lengthy comment, at the moment we have no idea what is being allowed by your present system as a limit, (the 6000 letters suggested is incorrect) and thus some comments have to be cut over and over again until it is accepted.

      Having to cut, and cut, and cut again an original comment (because it is refused), without knowing what the limit is, is very frustrating, and in many cases relevent points are lost..

      Reply: I have no view on how long comments should be and have not asked for a control. The technicians say they have to control length for capacity reasons. I will see if they can guide you more.

      1. Alan Jutson
        July 11, 2010


  4. Paul Round
    July 11, 2010

    For years the Any Questions programme has whistled up its audience from the state-dependent or well healed socialist sectors.They no more represent the nation than Gordon Brown does the Kirkcaldy electorate Reform the BBC and restore to what is left of it after its empire is trimmed, it's proper non partisan stance

  5. Iain Gill
    July 11, 2010

    i would have asked them is that famous 100% publically funded website

    was a great success for labour centralist control?

    1. nonny mouse
      July 11, 2010

      Here are some fun facts:

      – Over the last three months this site has been visited by more users than ( reached 0.00029% of all internet users vs 0.00016% for

      – Over the last month there has been a huge spike for is now more popular than this site ( reached 0.00017% of all internet users vs 0.00041% for The mere fact that was in the news for being scrapped increased it''s traffic by 2.5 times

      Conclusion: John should publically announce that this blog is scrapped to drive traffic to it. Note: he doesn't actually need to scrap it (I love chips was scrapped but is still online).


  6. Brian Tomkinson
    July 11, 2010

    You shouldn't be so surprised; people like Hodge and Harris believe that there should be state interference and/or control over every aspect of our lives. They see themselves as the benevolent elite who will care for the masses. The 'Any Questions?' audience regularly contains a large section who will offer raucous support for the type of pre-prepared slogans as uttered by the sanctimonious Harris. This will only intensify as the time since the general election lengthens. What you and your colleagues must do is to show by actions and words the good sense of your approach and the irresponsibility of Labour's.

  7. Javelin
    July 11, 2010

    It's almost like you doubt the rationale behind self-responsiblity. The food companies need to act responsibly, parents need to act responsibly and adults need to act responsibly.

    The only question is at what point the state needs to become involved not what form of advertising campaign there should be.

    Put quite simply there is more profit is feeding people more food and a higher cost to Government of having obese people. If you give a stupid, unmotivated unemployed person more benefits they will buy more fags and chips.

    I think you should put much tougher limits on sugar, fat and salt in food. Food companies use this to manipulate the weaks minds of people on the fringe. It costs very little and improves health.

  8. nonny mouse
    July 11, 2010

    The ad campaign existed to make Labour look like they were doing something about obesity, not to actually reduce obesity. It was advertising for the Labour government.

    You would think that now they are in opposition that they would welcome cutting it because it would be advertising the coalition government.


  9. Steve
    July 11, 2010

    Perhaps some important minister might suggest that the BBC could find itself competing with the other commercial stations for the food adverts from private companies, and then see how the composition of the audience of programmes like this changes? The BBC is out of control in just about every respect, and we have no need of it any more in its present taxpayer-funded form. Please let's add it to the growing list of state assets soon to be privatised.

  10. George
    July 11, 2010

    The choice of what we eat is not just determined by our choices. Finances and an understanding of what is healthy or not also is in the mix. It is then a choice as to who is responsible fort providing the information public or private sectors.

    Surely it has to be a mix of both, with the Government ensuring the most vulnerable get the information as appropriate.

  11. Allan D
    July 11, 2010

    No wonder the man from "The Guardian" was so keen on government advertising. The survival of his newspaper and consequently his job depend upon it. Eric Pickles' recent remarks vowing to put all government recruiting online (a promise which I hope he carries out as soon as possible with local authorities bering made to follow suit) must have struck fear into his soul.

    Government advertising, both local and national, is the easiest, and most pain-free, area where swingeing cuts could be made. We do not need to be told to eat less, exercise more, use less electricity or recycle more since the recession should be making us do all those things anyway. Above all, when the size of the public sector is being reduced we do not need pages of job advertisements in national newspapers (one in particular).

    Where central or local government does need to recruit all vacancies, at whatever level, should be posted online and/or advertised in the jobcentres for free. "The Guardian" which was once a great newspaper but which is now mainly bought by fresh graduates looking for jobs in the public sector would probably follow in the wake of the "News Chronicle" or "Daily Sketch" whose readership base was too narrow to generate the advertising revenue that would have enabled them to survive.

    1. albion
      July 12, 2010

      Funny you should mention (names various "fat tories") Since their gluttony is purely the result of their own free choice, I trust they have a good private health care scheme so they will not burden the NHS with the ineluctable medical costs of their unhealthy lifestyle.
      Survival of the fittest is more than ever the name of the game and, in that respect, muesli-eating Guardian readers such as myself have a bright future.

    2. albion
      July 12, 2010

      (refers to a governemnt Minister who is large) here is a man who remains oblivious to any advice on the risks of obesity. If his super size BMI is the result of his own free choice, perhaps he ought to tell the public that he has comprehensive private health insurance so the NHS will not bear the medical costs that will ineluctably result from his obesity.

  12. Bill Old
    July 11, 2010

    As I never tire of pointing out, the Government have no business in any aspect of our lives other than maintaining law and order and defence of the Realm. They are not welcome to interfere in education, health, food, manufacturing or any other area of our private lives.

  13. adam
    July 11, 2010

    isnt Margaret Hodge that (woman who had problems at a Borough's Childrens services?)
    How is she still in politics

    Anyway, what about those who eat too little, what effect will the adds have on them

    1. Allan D
      July 12, 2010

      Margaret Hodge was Leader of Islington Council (as well as Tony Blair's next-door neighbour) in the 1990s when there was a devastating report (after whistleblowers had been sacked) into the conditions and activities of the borough's children's homes. Mrs Hodge claimed to be "unaware" of what had been going on. After she succeeded Jo Richardson as MP for Barking Tony Blair appointed her Minister for Children proving that New Labour really did have an irony-bypass.

  14. DiscoveredJoys
    July 11, 2010

    Might I recommend a tactic we used in my old firm when cutting back? One of my team's tasks was to generate internal service reports (I know, I know). Even in times of cutback it was very difficult to get agreement to stop any of this work – so we would prepare the reports for a further month or two *but not send them out*. Unless there was a complaint in those months we stopped producing them.

    Perhaps it would be better *not* to publicise a lot of the inessential activities, but just make the changes?

    1. Henry
      July 12, 2010

      My old MD used to say,"It is easier to apologise than to ask permission!"

  15. simon
    July 11, 2010

    Did anyone notice that EU "help" advert on ITV recently telling us what not to eat or drink .

    Please stop our money being used against us in that way too .

  16. StevenL
    July 11, 2010

    Without saying too much, the Food Standards Agency was a a Blairite institution that does rely on food businesses to reduce salt/fat etc.

    Last time I looked they wanted to change the legal definition of 'cheddar' to allow Tesco et al to sell inferior low fat 'cheese' under that name.

    'Working with the food industry' was very new labour. Most people I know just eat what they want regardless.

  17. adam
    July 11, 2010

    Who are the National Obesity Forum

    Is there a way for a concerned citizen like me to find out information on this group
    does it receive taxpayer money? Is it funded by big transnational corporations PR budgets?
    It is active in political lobbying and present itself as anti-industry, pro consumer

  18. manicbeancounter
    July 11, 2010

    Government health campaigns should always be carefully monitored. It is an area where if the campaigns can make a positive net difference they should. However, that differance should be carefully measured, with measurement criteria set beforehand to evaluate after the campaign has finished.
    The huge number of government campaigns that have taken place over the past decade have rendered the public insensitive to them. To grab attention some, particularly against smoking, drink-driving and speeding, have become so horrific that they should carry a warning and a certification.

  19. adam
    July 11, 2010

    i found the accounts. at least what they admit

    'National' Obesity Forum is a political lobbying (forum supported by ed) big pharma. Its paid for by
    Sanofi Aventis
    Abbott Laboratories
    Roche Products

  20. Lindsay McDougall
    July 12, 2010

    I for one am less likely to do what a government ad tells me to do. And if it reminds me of a legal duty, I am most likely to campaign for the abolition of that law.

  21. christina sarginson
    July 12, 2010

    Oh dear I do feel that people have a choice about what to eat and not what he goverment tells them to eat.

  22. Josh
    July 12, 2010

    Those in the audience, the smug, self righteous Left, (more abuse removed-ed) remind me of those (misguided people-ed) who campaign against globalisation and yet listen to their Ipods at any opportunity despite it being made in China or India by people working in sub standard factories.

  23. gac
    July 12, 2010

    I agree with a previous poster – stop advertising ALL public centre jobs in the Guardian immediately and pave them instead in The Times and/or Daily Telegraph.

    This will have two major benefits – 1. A taxpayer funded seriously leftwing rag will go out of business along with its politically blinkered journalists and 2. Job seekers will have the benefit of reading higher newspapers.

    But like with Bercow and also the BBC I doubt the coalition has the'balls' to do it!

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