Andrew Purvis, (Food Magazine, 15th May) draws attention to the changing food composition over the last half century. Two other factors played an important role in this disaster.{}

First, the Agriculture, Food Research Council (AFRC) was shut down. In justification, its secretary, Sir William Henderson, stated “Food and Agriculture is a success story”. The laboratory of the Government Chemist, food and agricultural research centres were weakened if not closed.

The closure of the AFRC and research centres was based on the assumption that all answers to human nutrition were known. However, Henderson himself, knew little of the publications in the early 1970s demonstrating that arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids were essential to human brain growth and function.

Ironically, at the same time as the success story was being praised, the balance of these two essential fatty acids in the food chain, was progressively being undermined, threatening the integrity of brain development. Mike Rayner of the British Heart Foundation at the Letten Symposium, (Royal Society May 2004), presented data demonstrating that mental ill health is now the second most costly burden of ill health in the UK. Workers at the National Institutes of Health in the USA have evidence that this imbalance is a major factor in the rise in mental ill health. So much for “knowing all the answers”!
Secondly, Purvis talks about a redefinition of food production for nutrient quality, which is what the public think they are paying for! He is right. The public do not know what they are buying as the story about the chickens highlights. The public have been deliberately made ignorant of nutrition and health by the closure of the Colleges of Home Economics and its removal from education in schools. The Government should urgently re-instate nutrition, health and home economics from pre-school to A-level. Then you will have a new population empowered to make decisions about their own health and future well-being. In the words of the Lancet, the new “ public-health leaders must replace prevarication with imagination”. (6th March 2004 – “The catastrophic failures of public health”).

Kate Start

Nutrition Consultant