Speaking at a Food and Drink Federation (FDF) conference yesterday (22 January) the public health minister Anna Soubry praised the food industry’s progress in combating obesity but warned that greater action is needed if businesses want to prevent legislation.
She added: “Some companies have signed up, but I know there are others not doing anything at all and are not engaged. That has to change. I’m looking forward to more people signing up for the Responsibility Deal so that we avoid regulation and legislation”.
The comments come as GlaxoSmithKline, AG Barr and Britvic agreed to reduce calories in their products by up to one-tenth as part of a UK Government anti-obesity drive. Food producers and retailers have been under pressure in 2013 to show they are taking serious steps to cut fat, salt and sugar from foods, as well as to improve healthy options for consumers.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has also urged the industry to do more, albeit without outlining specific goals or detailing the consequences of not doing so.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham launched a consultation to ask experts and the public for their opinions on introducing tougher laws to curb obesity earlier this month, after urging the government to regulate children’s foods high in sugar and fat.
Soubry said her “instinct is not to regulate” and reiterated that calls for legal limits on salt, sugar and fat in foods marketed to children are “bonkers”, believing the responsibility lies with individuals, particularly parents.
“The Prime Minister will be wanting to know whether we are delivering [on the Responsibility Deal], she added. “I don’t want to be in a position where the prime minister and health secretary are saying to me: ‘Anna the Responsibility Deal is not delivering in the way that it must for the sake of the nation, so we are going to have to look at legislation.”
Richard Evans, chair of the FDF health and wellbeing steering group and president of PepsiCo in the UK and Ireland, defended the initiative’s record on health but conceded “scaleability” is a key issue this year.
He added that some companies, particularly small-to-medium businesses, need to catch up and called on the plan’s signatories to work together more to drive engagement in anti-obesity initiatives.
“Lets make 2013 a year where we broaden that burden”, he said. “We know that demand for healthier products is a key driver of growth and a stimulator for innovation across our industry. Day after day shoppers are faced with often contradictory stories about ingredients, food and nutrition. This situation only causes confusion rather than offering a solution. The language all of us [use in marketing] has to change.”
The comments follow the launch of a report from the FDF highlighting the achievements by the industry to cut salt, fat and sugar in their products.