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Invented by the Swiss: Recipes for nutrition policy


07 Jun 2017


Agriculture & Food
Health & Consumers
Innovation & Enterprise

Invented by the Swiss

Recipes for nutrition policy

By Detlef Brendel

The menu at a clandestine meeting in Brussels includes Nesquik cereals with reduced sugar and low-sodium chicken noodle soup from Maggi. Nestlé invited guests to a discussion in accordance with Chatham House Rules – that is, anonymously and confidentially. They wanted to convince politicians to adjust EU guidelines to match Nestlé’s own marketing vision.

Much like the motto of a certain current American politician, the Swiss food MNC believes in the notion of ‘Nestlé first’. As early as February 2016, the company was promoting the idea that politicians should ensure that competitors in the European food market be forced to conform to Nestlé’s perceptions of proper conduct using guidelines and ordinances in the EU magazine POLITICO. Their logic: if consumers no longer like the taste of modified Nestlé products, they shouldn't be able to turn to more appetising alternatives. They instead suggest homogenised flavours dictated by political controls. The unwanted competition created by varied food supply should be prevented by regulation in order to make Swiss nutritional strategies more amenable to the market.


A ban on salt shakers

The reduced menu at the lobbying meeting in Brussels also corresponded to a reduced number of participants. The event's heroes were primarily actors that attempt to reduce choice using regulations, penalty taxes and advertising bans, dominate companies, and control consumer behaviour. The agenda even included an item on preventing consumers from adding salt to their meals themselves, which could logically be achieved by introducing rules on salt shakers.

No honest nutrition researcher has absolute scientific facts regarding healthy or unhealthy food, or would be so bold as to officially designate foodstuffs as ‘good’ or 'bad’. In fact, Nestlé seems to be the only party that claims to know what is healthy. Which makes sense, when you think about it. If products touched by Nestlé across the world were bad, wouldn't there be a flood of lawsuits against obesity, illness and infirmity? But luckily, they aren’t! Nestlé first. Now people would rather rely on trends with absolutely no basis, but that have good strategic prospects. Salt, fat and sugar need to be reduced. Both consumers and politicians are supposed to believe that Nestlé, using these methods, wants to save the health of the world with its new recipes. And this corporate strategy can only succeed when competitors on the market also are forced to come up with new recipes that prevent consumers from turning to better-tasting alternatives. Nestlé first. The impact of a global, politically imposed levelling of recipes on the diversity of food supply and on the existence of middle-range producers would be fatal. Their disappearance would result in a consolidation of Nestlé’s hold on the market.

National food sector associations in Europe are making a stand against this paternalism. In a joint declaration from 31 May 2017, they clearly stated that a discriminatory classification of foodstuffs would be unacceptable. According to current EU strategy, nutritional and health-related information should enable consumers to decide for themselves if their dietary habits make sense and are well-balanced.

Experiences abroad justify this rejection of state-regulated recipes. One year after the ‘High in sugar’ warning was introduced in Chile, it was demonstrated there were potential health risks in approximately 1550 products after sugar was replaced by chemical sweeteners. The Minister of Health in Chile has since initiated an investigation into whether the discrimination against sugar isn't actually counter-productive, and may in fact endanger the health of consumers. In addition to other possible risks presented by chemical substances, there are already studies that show that enhanced use of sweeteners can trigger obesity. Fewer calories means bigger portions – when a healthy lifestyle is really about balance. Nestlé second.


Detlef Brendel is the author of the book The Sugar Lie, in which he critically assesses the unreliability of nutritional information and paternalism regarding consumers (Ludwig-Verlag ISBN 978-3-453-28075-5)