‘Foods marketed to children’ back on the agenda as Labour reveals manifesto

Labour has reiterated a previous pledge by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham to tackle heavily marketed unhealthy food products, as it set out the plans in its official party manifesto today [April 13].

The move, which will potentially upset marketers, will see Labour commit to reducing the levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods that are ‘marketed substantially to children’ if voted to form the UK’s next government.

Citing an urgent need to reduce national levels of obesity and binge drinking to ease the financial strain on the NHS, Labour’s manifesto reads: “We will set a new national ambition to improve the uptake of physical activity and take targeted action on those high strength, low cost alcohol products that fuel problem drinking.

And we will set maximum permitted levels of sugar, salt and fat in foods marketed substantially to children.”

The party claims that unless action is taken to halt the rise in obesity and diabetes, the cost of diabetes to the NHS will hit £17bn each year by 2035, up from £10bn.

The Food and Drink Federation has welcomed Labour’s public health policy but called for caution, with a spokesman telling Marketing Week: “We strongly support Labour’s decision to place the promotion of physical activity at the centre of its public health policy.”

However, we are concerned at the effectiveness of targeting specific products, when tackling the UK’s complex obesity challenge requires a ‘whole lifestyle’ approach.

In the UK we already have one of the strictest advertising regulatory regimes in the world concerning the foods that can be advertised to children on TV, while companies responsible for more than 80% of food and beverage advertising expenditure in the EU have signed up to the EU Pledge and its code of conduct.”

Back in January, Burnham said the party was eyeing the possibility of a 9pm watershed on the advertising of unhealthy products, although any such mention was left out of today’s manifesto.

At the time, Burnham said Labour would take ‘tougher action’ to protect children from the ‘commercial pressures’ caused by alcohol, sugar and smoking.

Labour will also expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, the government regulatory department set up to protect suppliers from aggressive tactics from the major supermarkets.

“We will expand the role of the supermarket watchdog to support the growth of the sector, and protect food producers from unfair practises by the major supermarkets.”

Britain’s grocery code adjudicator Christine Tacon has already launched an on-going investigation into Tesco, after allegations it delayed payments to suppliers and unfairly handled payments for shelf promotions.

Marketing Week reached out to Labour for more clarification on today’s manifesto announcements and how they will impact marketers, but has yet to receive comment.