The Heart Foundation copped some robust criticism from public health advocates (including Croakey regular Professor Mike Daube) when it allowed take-away food outlets such as McDonald’s to participate in its licensed ‘Tick’ program.
Now the Foundation has decided to stop extending the program to fast food outlets and instead focus on other ways to improve the nutritional status of restaurant food. They are not saying whether or not the criticisms from the public health sector had any influence on their decision (Croakey readers can only speculate!), however, they have emphasised their commitment to working with other stakeholders in the fast food and takeaway sectors.
CEO Lyn Roberts told Croakey yesterday that she believes that the Heart Foundation can have a bigger public health impact with its new plans than it did with the Tick.
She said “The Tick required companies to make big changes in new ingredients, new equipment and training for thousands of staff. Some companies made the effort and it led to vast improvements in the industry. Our work behind the scenes has seen massive improvements across the food supply chain. We’ve seen healthier oils now being used in many take away and catering food outlets for all of their meals, not just their Tick meals. We even saw a change in the type of canola grown by Australian farmers – which has helped ensure that healthier ingredients are available to the entire food industry.
We now know it’s possible to reduce salt and saturated fat and cook with healthier oils. We’ve learned a lot – but we now believe that the licensing program isn’t the best way of getting the healthy changes we need to the food we eat. We’re going back to basics, ensuring that every ingredient reaching the takeaway store is healthier.
We want changes not just from those companies who have been a part of the Tick, but from everyone who serves takeaway food in Australia.”
An endorsement system such as the Tick program with a business model that relies on ‘endorsing’ as many food products as possible will eventually lose credibility and usefulness. Just walk down any supermarket aisle and the Tick is no longer a product differentiator – it is widely used. Is it because all the products have suddenly become ‘healthier’ or that the criteria used have been ‘bought’? The program’s downfall is that it is no longer ‘exclusive’, doesn’t require constant improvements of the product to continue the ‘endorsement’ and the criteria are not transparent. Having the Tick on unhealthy products just because they are the best of the worst doesn’t engender confidence in the program. Transparency of the rating criteria is key to communicate what the tick stands for. For far too long the tick relied on the credibility of the organisation (Heart Foundation) and not on the criteria used to rate the products.