In a regular column for Health Food Business, the IHTA’s Phil Costigan questions whether Ireland can aspire to be lean and green?

Can Ireland aspire to be lean and green?

It is wise and prudent to know your customer, to keep vigilant on the supply and demand, so recently the IHTA commissioned a survey based on suitably representative demographics, posing some key questions. Without being complacent, it is good news to hear back that from the responses received, more than 7 in 10 Irish adults buy food supplements as they consider food supplements to be an important part of a healthy diet. We also learnt that a majority of these customers purchase food supplements all year round, mainly to “maintain & improve ongoing adult health”. In addition, we noted that almost 6 in 10 customers (58%) buy to “boost the immune system or help colds & flus recovery”.

Having invited commentary, responding participants who contributed remarks, affirmed the opinion that healthy living should be encouraged and supported by governmental policy. There was a thread of observation by some participants who went as far as suggesting that our government should tax products that are bad for the health, not the ones contributing to good health.

Taking account of the latter comment/observation, it is positive to see our Oireachtas has begun to implement a number of measures as part of an overall policy to tackle national obesity in adults and children. Readers may already know that in September 2016 our Department of Health launched “A Healthy Weight for Ireland – Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016- 2025 ”. It is difficult to assess what level of success this policy is having, however it may have contributed to the introduction of the plan to place the calorie count on menus, as there was resistance from the catering industry to same being mandatory, this initiative remains open for volunteering participants.

South-Africa-introduces-sugar-tax_wrbm_largeA tangible success to note is that following on from the WHO lead, Ireland has introduced a sugar sweetened drinks tax and in February of this year, Ireland formally notified the European Commission on the country’s plans to introduce a sugar sweetened drinks tax.  This tax would apply to soft drinks, i.e., water-based beverages and juice-based beverages containing added sugar with a sugar content of 5 grams or more.   In April, the European Commission approved under the EU’s State aid rules our proposed new tax.

While our industry sector has many well based grievances on European regulatory intervention which in many instances is not fit for purpose and stymies the growth and development of our industry sector, the common European aspiration to tackle obesity is to be welcomed. There are times when national policy makers need a prompt from Big brother in Europe to impel us to get our own national affairs in order.  The decision by China to withdraw from accepting plastic waste for disposal together with the shocking evidence of plastic pollution, has prompted the European Commission to conclude “the way plastics are currently produced, used and discarded fails to capture the economic benefits of a more ‘circular’ approach and harms the environment”. Consequently it is hoped that the onerous demands of the EU’s new Plastics Strategy puts pressure on all national markets to get their house in order.

Reading recently that in Europe, an average 31kg of plastic packaging waste is produced per person per year, this adds up to an annual 15.8 million tonnes of generated plastic packaging waste. Sad to see that Ireland is top of the list generating the most plastic waste, a staggering 60kg which is almost double the European average. On the positive side, focused and concerted efforts are now being made not only at policy level but also aimed at the consumer, it sheds some optimism on the grave state of affairs to see that more and more of the public are environmentally conscious.

With more of our customers becoming aware of the mounting heap of plastic, many will seriously consider reducing their individual contribution to plastic waste making purchase choices to support this. As an industry, do we need to take a critical view on our own packaging methods? As an industry, while we can be proud of our efforts to keep the public healthy, are we equally diligent in keeping their environment healthy too?

reduce-your-plastic-footprintIt is time now to be asking ourselves some pertinent questions, can we be leaders in playing a role to tackle the plastic waste crisis, will we wait and see how matters develop, pragmatically and practically, how responsible can we be, are we open to adapt and seek solutions? After all we are all in this together!

Phil Costigan is General Secretary of the Irish Health Trade Association (IHTA), which represents the interests of manufacturers, importers and distributors of natural health products in Ireland. The principal aim of the IHTA is to assist member companies in promoting the wellness of all people in Ireland. For more information on the IHTA, visit

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