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01/11/2006

The Alcohol and Health Forum and the experience of the NGOs from the EU Diet Platform

According to the Communication on the EU Alcohol Strategy, the Commission will set up an Alcohol and Health Forum by June 2007, which will help the dissemination of good practices and will have as its overall objective to support, provide input for and monitor the implementation of the strategy.

The Communication establishes that the forum will constitute the backbone of the strategy. It will put together experts from different stakeholder organizations, and representatives from Member States and other EU institutions and agencies and it will be modeled after the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

The experience from the EU Diet Platform shows that the industry plays a very active role in relation to the Platform – using it to promote their initiatives, gain access to senior policy-makers, and, gather legitimacy for their activities. The industry has extensively used the logo of the Platform for their own events, in their marketing information and in the media.

In order to encourage the engagement of the food industry, Commissioner Kyprianou has regularly met with the CIAA (The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU)[1] and food industry executives recently spoke with Commission President Barroso to highlight their voluntary commitments. In the past few days, Commission Kyprianou has also given a press conference accompanied by leading food companies to praise them for their self-selected commitments to reduce childhood obesity.

During this period, the food industry has not stopped lobbying in their own interests and against Commission proposals designed to improve nutritional health such as requiring food products that are marketed with a ‘health' claim meeting a minimum nutrient profile, or limits on food advertising to children in the TVwF[2] Directive etc. In short, the food industry has gained prestige and visibility, continued to pursue their objectives and co-opted the regulatory authority.

Furthermore, the number of Platform meetings per year (20 or so) and the administrative burden of the ‘commitment' system drains the scarce human and financial resources of the NGO members.

It should also be noted that the NGOs that are members of the EU Diet Platform, have not received the same attention as the Industry. The Commissioner has not attended their meetings, spoken at their conferences or singled out their activities as being praiseworthy. Instead the NGOs have been diverted from their own agendas and participate in the EU Diet Platform in order to be a counterbalance to the food industry.

[1] CIAA's mission is to represent the food and drink industries' interests, at the level of both European and international institutions. Its members include Coca-cola, Danone, Nestle, Heineken, Ferrero, etc.

[2] The Television Without Frontiers Directive regulates television advertising and it is currently being revised by the EU Institutions