Should the food industry resign from the health department too?

08 September 2014

Furore over links between Assistant Minister for Health Fiona Nash’s office and industry continues today with revelations that her former chief of staff is connected to the alcohol, as well as the food industry. Alastair Furnival resigned last Friday over his role in shutting down a website about the health star rating food labelling system and it’s now been revealed that he played a key role in cancelling the funding of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia. Furnival is co-owner of a lobbying firm that has represented major food companies opposed to the new front-of-pack labelling system. According to Fairfax, he and his wife also co-own a company, which, in turn, owns another that lobbied for the alcohol industry in 2012. Such conflicts of interest place question marks over an individual’s capacity to judge a situation, perform a duty or make a decision in a fair and impartial manner. But what if a public institution, such as the Department of Health itself, has conflicted interests? Furnival’s conflict of interest is worrying and should be thoroughly scrutinised. But the influence of the food and alcohol industries at the institutional-level precedes Furnival and will continue despite his resignation.