SMEs fight to be reinstated in EU obesity platform

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

European food production SMEs argue they should be allowed to
return to the EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and
health, because they have significant contributions to make in the
fight against obesity.

The Commission launched the European platform in March 2005 to bring together industry associations, consumer groups, health NGOs and political leaders to combat the rise in obesity, especially among children and young people. The European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME), which had been a member of the platform for a year, was removed in February last year, with the explanation: "Your organisation has neither delivered baseline data nor has it introduced commitments for 2006. The platform has therefore decided to suspend your organisation membership."​ Last week, Ludger Fischer, from UEAPME , criticised the dismissal at the Friends of Europe lunch debate, and complained of the EU's failure to respond to their requests to be reinstated. Generally speaking, an SME (small and medium enterprise) is a company that has a turnover of less than £50m, or less than 250 employees. They make up 99 per cent of all enterprises, producing over half of Europe's food products, and provide around 65 million jobs. According to Fischer, food producing SMEs "provide European consumers with an immense variety of food",​ and therefore have an important part to play in combating obesity. He told FoodNavigator.com: "Each enterprise is integral in helping consumers make the right choice. Individual butchers and bakers have a role to play at a local level, and together can make one million individual actions." "UEAPME does not see food labelling and the encouragement of physical exercise as answers to the obesity problem. Experiences in theUKand US suggest the better option is a healthy selection of different foods, which can lead to an attentive approach to diet." ​Philip Tod, spokesperson for the EC department of Health and Consumer Protection, said: "It is clear that SMEs have a role to play in addressing obesity, which is why UEAPME had been invited to join in the first place. However, membership of the platform also requires active participation by members in terms of submitting commitments and a baseline of what they have done to date on the issue of tackling obesity. This is set out clearly in the founding document establishing the platform.We are not aware of a request on their part to be reinstated." ​Sabine Hennsler from the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), a founding member of the platform, said: "All our commitments are continually monitored, which is of course an essential exercise to undertake, and which we firmly believe is an important aspect of the work that is going on within the platform. The EU platform is an opportunity to build trust, share experiences and find solutions and CIAA continues to be a strong and committed contributor." ​She also argued that the CIAA has some SME members and therefore represents their views. But according to Fischer, the number is insufficient: "This is the only association representing SMEs on a European level, yet it is mainly driven by the large global players in the food industry."​ Obesity and the related health problems are ever-increasing problems in Europe. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight, indicating a worsening of poor diets and low physical activity levels, which increase the possibility of suffering from chronic health conditions. In trying to combat this, the Commission has already produced stronger regulations for nutrition and health claims made by food manufacturers and is currently conducting a review on nutrition labelling. In May, it set out a white paper to build on the existing efforts to address the problem of obesity. Its main purpose was to set out an integrated approach to reducing ill health as a result of poor diet and obesity across the EU.

Related topics: Market Trends

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