"We are delighted to have such an important EU civil servant to talk at our conference," said European Vending Association (EVA) director general Catherine Piana.
"This shows that health and overweight issues are crucial to our society and that public authorities are taking it extremely seriously. It is a crucial time for us. Our industry has to be there to show that we also care and have solutions."
Piana said that the conference is aimed at showing the solutions and challenges the vending industry is facing, arising principally from the obesity issue. Food and drink producers have come under increasing pressure in Europe amid accusations that not enough is being done to halt rising rates of obesity.
The European Commission, which launched a green paper on promoting healthy diets and physical activity, estimated that obesity accounted for seven per cent of EU health care costs. The British Medical Association, representing about three quarters of UK doctors, said that if current trends continue, at least one fifth of boys and one third of girls in Britain will be obese by 2020.
Children's products contribute about 14-15bn to the overall 700bn food and drink market in Europe.
The soft drinks industry has clearly decided that proactive is the way forward. A voluntary ban on advertising to children across the European Union was recently agreed, in an effort to curb public criticism.
The Union of European Beverages Associations (Unesda) said that members, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Cadbury Schweppes, would stop advertising soft drinks to children under the age of 12.
Unesda also pledged to provide unbranded vending machines in secondary schools and that there would be "no engagement in any direct commercial activity" in primary schools. Alain Beaumont, secretary general of Unesda, said that the group hoped to implement advert restrictions by the end of 2006.
In fact, France has already taken action and banned all vending machines from schools last September in an attempt to tackle the problem. England and Scotland have pledged to get junk food, including fizzy drinks, out of schools there.
The European vending sector clearly hopes that a blanket ban across Europe will not materialise, and will likely use the upcoming conference to argue that responsible action is already being undertaken. For its part, the food industry hopes that voluntary action will lessen the need for legislative action.
The conference, which takes place on 27 April 2006 in Brussels, will also welcome other professionals such as Richard Geerdes, president and chief executive officer of NAMA (American Vending Association). The US food and drink industry has come under concerted attack for its alleged role in the obesity crisis over there.
"The matter of health and wellness crosses national and cultural lines to concern everyone in our industry," said Geerdes. "Through sharing information and ideas in a conference such as this one, all of us can benefit."
The European Vending Association represents the whole of the vending industry: machine, machine component and accessories manufacturers, ingredient suppliers and operators. The primary aim of the EVA is to optimise the industrys commercial interests within the EU legislation.