Food and Drink Federation criticises government’s ‘missed opportunity’ on tackling obesity

The UK’s Food and Drink Federation has labelled the government’s new plans to tackle obesity amid the coronavirus crisis as a “missed opportunity” that penalises the sector, including manufacturers of confectionery and snacks ranges. Neill Barston reports.

Tim Rycroft, chief operating officer for the key industry trade body, believed the latest nationwide health campaign would place an increased burden on many hard-hit hospitality businesses in particular, with the new proposals including a ban on television advertising of ‘unhealthy food’ before 9pm, calorie labelling for higher fat foods sold in restaurants and cafe’s, as well as weight management education programmes.

Speaking on the plans, he said there was a considerable risk that the government’s scheme would result in the sector having to raise prices for consumers at a time of considerable financial hardship for many families amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, health campaign groups, including Action on Sugar have expressed concerns that the proposals do not go far enough in terms of proposing a ‘sugar tax’ upon goods including confectionery and snacks as part of the package of measures to encourage healthier eating – citing the recent success of the drinks sugar tax.

As the government’s latest campaign noted, its latest campaign comes as two thirds of UK adults are considered to have an unhealthy weight, while over 30% of children leaving primary school are considered obese, raising the prospect of major health issues in later life including type 2 diabetes. In addition, the government said that research from Public Health England had shown that being overweight increased coronavirus patients’ chances of becoming seriously ill and dying.

While acknowledging that there were serious health issues to be tackled, Rycroft said the timing of the government’s interventions would create considerable additional strain on the industry at a moment that it requires additional support.

He said: “The UK’s food and drink manufacturers and the half a million people we employ – so recently the heroes heralded by government for feeding the nation during the Covid crisis – will be reeling today from this punishing blow.

“As the economy struggles to recover, new restrictions on promoting and advertising everyday food and drink will increase the price of food, reduce consumer choice and threaten jobs across the UK. And all to save 17 calories a day.

“A new government focus on the promotion of physical activity is welcome, but this package looks like a terrible missed opportunity. After months in which people have thought more about diet and exercise, we could have embarked on a bold programme to promote healthier lifestyles and better diet choices – encouraging consumption of fibre, fruit and vegetables. Instead, at the heart of this programme are old and discredited policies that will raise prices, limit choice and hit two of the UK’s most successful industries.

Speaking on the advertising ban – which could affect a number of confectionery manufacturers who have typically advertised in prime evening slots, as well as early morning advertising pitched at families, he believed that it was also a flawed policy.

He said: “It is extraordinary that the government is proposing a ban on promotions of food and drink in retail at such a precarious economic time. With household budgets more stretched than ever before, the Scottish Government recently reversed its decision to press ahead with promotional restrictions. They said the covid crisis had rendered their impact assessments meaningless. Why are things different in England?

“Government is pulling in different directions. From August the Chancellor is paying for people to eat out whilst the Health Secretary is proposing banning promotions on the same foods in supermarkets.”

Katharine Jenner, campaign director at Action n Sugar and Action on Salt, also added her concern over the extent of the government’s plans that she said needed to be bolder in order to bring about tangible change.

She said: “We are delighted that the Government has finally recognised that these huge food and drink companies have not been acting in our best interests when they advertise and discount their heavily processed, high in fat, salt and sugar, food and drinks. This will be hard to stomach for many of them, but for the more responsible companies, this is an opportunity to build back better, making and promoting healthier options.

However, it’s a missed opportunity that mandatory targets for reformulation i.e. removing unnecessary calories, sugar and salt from products have been excluded from Boris’s announcement along with their proper enforcement. Further more, it’s absurd that the highly successful soft drinks levy has not been extended to other unhealthy sugar foods and drinks.”


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