British Nutrition Foundation

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

History and exposure

Founded in 1967 it has a long record of campaigning to defend the interests of the food industry. Its 2000-01 annual report lists of the largest food companies operating in the UK including some of the biggest transnational corporations such as Ajinomoto (makers of Nutrasweet), British Sugar, Cadbury's Coca Cola, Du Pont, Sainsbury's, Kellogg's, McDonald's, Nestle, Procter and Gamble, Roche, Tate and Lyle, Trebor Bassett, Unilever and Weetabix. The BNF declines to publish its membership fees but declares income of £662,503 in the year 2004-2005 from 'Covenants, donations and memberships'. [1] On average this would translate as around £19,500 for each member, an insignificant sum for such large companies. The BNF was exposed by a World in Action documentary in 1985 when its Director General from 1982-4, Dr Derek Shrimpton appeared revealing that it was unable to pursue an independent line on nutrition policy: 'In the period I was there the BNF was solely taken up with defensive actions for the industry', he said. He revealed that it had conducted a long struggle to undermine successive government committees which were trying to recommend reductions in the consumption of sugars, salt and fats. The BNF role was to try and 'kill' the NACNE Committee:

If it couldn't be killed it was best to be emasculated. And in all events the BNF must come out of this very white. At no time must the BNF's hand be seen in this… the tactic was to delay it and delay it again, so that everybody got fed up and at no point would it see the light of day. If that failed then it was to be published as low key as possible and no official support.[2]

The BNF campaigning was so effective that the government report was suppressed and never implemented. The only defeat for the BNF was that the suppression was picked up in the media and caused a major political row - but no action. The follow up committee was jointly convened with the BNF and its report too was suppressed.[3] This was a factor in the later abolition of the Health Education Council by the Thatcher government and its replacement with a quango less threatening to industry interests. Mind you., even this organisations became too threatening to the government over the issues of HIV and AiDs and it was closed and absorbed into the NHS.[4]

The appearance of independence convinces many. BNF officials and associated scientists sit on government committees and according to the BNF annual report 2001 the organisation 'is increasingly asked to check copy by magazines' the kind of public credibility which corporations crave.[5]

Notes

  1. ^ http://www.nutrition.org.uk/upload/BNF%20Annual%20Report0405(5).pdf BNF 2005, Annual Report,p.16
  2. ^ cited in Cannon 1987:356
  3. ^ Cannon 1987: 354-362
  4. ^  See Miller et al 1998
  5. ^  BNF 2001, Annual Report,p. 8