Passing EU-wide regulations on the food industry for reducing non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is not a question of 'whether' but 'how', according to a new report published as part of the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies (SIEPS) research project, known as Social Europe.
Health researchers and policy makers must engage more thoroughly with the legal issues relevant to regulations that aim to reduce NCDs to ensure that such strategies 'can withstand industry challenges', the report says.
The report (found here ) examines the development of EU regulation targeting three risk lifestyle factors (tobacco, alcoholic drinks, and unhealthy diets) and analyses the role of law in developing successful transnational NCD control and prevention strategies.
"Our analysis has shown, a broad range of strategies exists to prevent and control NCDs. These different strategies have different natures, involve different actors and vary in scope, yet as they all require some forms of legal intervention, they illustrate how the law may offer opportunities for the prevention and control of NCDs as well as constraints," reads the report - which is authored by two leading experts in the field; Professor Alberto Alemanno of l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC), and Professor Amandine Garde at the University of Liverpool.
"The question is not so much whether the law can play an important role in promoting healthier lifestyles. Rather, the question is how the law can be validly designed to support effective NCD prevention and control policies."
Writing in the preface of the report, Anna Stellinger, director of SIEPS noted that the laws and regulations surrounding NCDs are a 'highly sensitive area,' in which the law needs to be seen not just as a source of opportunity, but also as a potential source of problems.
"The importance of this question cannot be understated: good laws concerning NCDs must be able to withstand legal challenges as much as can possibly be anticipated," commented Garde and Alemanno.
Indeed, they suggested in turn that the public health community develop the skills it both lacks and urgently needs to oppose the audacious legal arguments industry operators have relied upon to challenge in court the development of NCD agendas at global, regional, national and local levels.
"The more the public health community can deal with the legal constraints that the law imposes on public authorities, the more it can maximize the opportunities that the law offers to the NCD prevention and control agenda."
Speaking with FoodNavigator, Professor Garde said the report argues that while the European Union has a range of regulatory tools at its disposal to promote healthier lifestyles, it has used much more in relation to tobacco than alcoholic beverages and unhealthy diets, "not least in relation to marketing regulation".
"We are also calling on the health community to engage more systematically and thoroughly with legal issues relevant to NCD prevention and control to ensure that the strategies they are calling for can withstand industry challenges," she said.