Heavyweights in the healthy food debate clashed in Parliament yesterday, with anti-obesity campaigners saying parents were crying out for "nanny state" to make their kids eat fruit and vegetables and food industry groups claiming the bill meant Pineapple Lumps could be banned by government decree.
Politicians are considering the Public Health Bill, which among a range of reforms, proposes regulations to curb the prominence of fatty and unhealthy foods in Kiwi diets.
The idea has been condemned by opponents who say it is an example of "nanny state" regulating people's private lives.
Yesterday, Fight The Obesity Trust spokeswoman Dr Robyn Toomath told the parliamentary committee considering the bill that was exactly what people wanted.
"People are desperate for Nanny State's help. Parents are desperate for help to get children to eat healthily," she said.
Dr Toomath told the committee the notebook she kept detailing the patients admitted to her hospital ward was full of people who suffered severe health problems because they were overweight.
"I know from my day to day experience how big this problem is," she said.
Her patients were intelligent people who knew they needed to regulate their diet and lose weight, but were overwhelmed by a nutritional environment which promoted high-energy, unhealthy foods, she said.
While she did not want to see regulations governing what people ate, it was essential the Government had the ability to do so as a backstop in case voluntary self-regulation by food manufacturers did not stem the obesity epidemic, Dr Toomath said.
The food industry soon struck back, as the Confectionery Manufacturers Association painted a picture of the Director-General of Health being granted the power to ban Pineapple Lumps, Perky Nana bars and Easter eggs.
"As children, no one in Parliament today would have conceived a world where they could not get a lolly as a treat," chief executive officer Trish Hyde said.
Both the Food and Grocery Council and the Food Industry Group said they supported moves to reduce obesity and promote a balanced diet, but begged for time for voluntary moves relating to advertising and display of sweet and sugary foods to be allowed to work.
Food and Grocery Council executive director Brenda Cutress said comments from some health advocates about food manufacturers had bordered on being libellous. The council supported the aim of the bill to improve public health, but opposed unfettered powers being introduced to allow regulation of the food industry.
"The exercise of these powers have potential serious implications for commerce, freedom of speech, removal of consumer choice and restrictions on the lifestyles of a large section of the population who may not be at risk of a non communicable disease."