Hanno Pijl: ‘The government’s policy for healthy eating must be much more indicative’

So says Leiden professor of endocrinology and internist Hanno Pijl. His expertise includes endocrine disruption, which can lead to numerous disorders, including diabetes. “I see many diabetics, and what bothers me is that they have to take 8 or 9 medicines. Even if it’s damage we inflict on ourselves through our lifestyles.”

Professor Hanno Pijl is updated by CEO Joep van den Bosch from the Westland horticultural technology company Ridder. Photo: Fred Libochant

At the beginning of this week, the doctor paid a working visit to a number of nurseries in Westland and Oostland for three days. Pijl was very impressed by the most modern techniques used to arrive at a healthy product.

The soups that Unilever makes or the peppers that growers grow make a world of difference

“We need to get away from industrial food, with too much salt, fat and sugar. The idea among some that the vegetables from the greenhouse would also be too industrial is not what occurred to me when I visited the companies. The soups that Unilever makes or the peppers that growers grow make a world of difference.”

Tax on healthy free lunch

One of the companies that Pijl visited is Koppert Cress. It was also about CEO Rob Baan’s lawsuit against the tax authorities over the sky-high sales tax he received for the free healthy lunches he gives his employees. On appeal, the Court of Appeal in The Hague recently ruled in Baan’s favor. An inquiry into his company’s health policy and the Working Conditions Act weighs less than the tax rule that a free lunch must be considered benefits in kind, and therefore tax must be paid on its value.

A tax rule to be revised as it pertains to Arrow. “What Rob does is really important for the employees in his company and ultimately for the health of the whole of the Netherlands. If I say it as a doctor, it may carry a little more weight than if the gardeners say it.”

Driven into the unhealthy corner

According to Pijl, a much more governing government policy is necessary because consumers are being driven into an unhealthy corner on the free market alone, ‘organic’ alone. “Food that is rich in calories, fat and salt, we can hardly stay away from that. If the industry and their products are restricted by health regulations, consumers will not be dissatisfied. But much healthier.”

Negative effect of unhealthy diet greater than smoking, drinking, stress and too little exercise combined

Nutri-Score in traffic light colors on products is a step in the right direction. But the industry can keep making everything. And information and knowledge alone will not get us there. It proves the fact that we all eat too little fruit and vegetables when everyone knows it would be healthier.”

VAT on fruit and vegetables is too absurd for words

Make use of proven incentives, such as financial charges, says Pijl unequivocally. “That the VAT measure for fruit and vegetables has now been made so complicated and must take so long is of course too absurd for words.” Pijl has no faith in the market as an instrument to stimulate healthy food. But market thinking in health insurance shows some improvement.

Lifestyle interventions in basic package

“Insurance companies were afraid to reimburse lifestyle interventions. “Let’s see what it does first,” they said. But they now see that it reduces insured health care costs. It is great that the combined lifestyle intervention is now included in the basic package.”

Together, this means that it is about eating healthier, but also doing more exercise, not smoking and moderating alcohol. The arrow says: the negative effect of an unhealthy diet is greater than smoking, drinking, stress and too little exercise combined.

Eat healthier in LUMC

“That’s why I’m so happy that we still have our own kitchen at my hospital, LUMC. And that we have put much more fresh on the plate in recent years. Not only for the patients, but also for the employees.”

“I occasionally hear some grumbling that the snack corner has become so small,” admits Pijl. But if healthy food becomes much cheaper or can even be delivered free and duty-free, that grumbling will naturally die.

Horticultural practitioners ‘in residency’

Hanno Pijl was ‘in residency’ in greenhouse horticulture from Monday to Wednesday. Immersing influential professionals from other sectors in the greenhouse world is an initiative of EatThis, a platform for dialogue between food producers and society. Philosopher Ger Driessen and photojournalist Kadir van Lohuizen have previously been guests.

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