Food and Drink Federation warns members NOT to engage with health charities on product reformulation – despite Britain’s obesity epidemic
Embargoed until 00.01 on 14.06.2016
Campaign groups, Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) and Action on Sugar have been warned by the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) NOT to communicate directly with its members on matters concerning product reformulation – claiming it does not see the ‘additional value’ of both CASH and Action on Sugar’s input, who should not ‘dictate’ to industry.
In a letter to Professor Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chair of Action on Sugar and CASH, the FDF has stated “it is for Government to collect information and host discussions with a range of stakeholders on what is the most appropriate way for it to set its public health policy, and not for others, NGOs or industry to dictate.”
In May 2016, both CASH and Action on Sugar wrote to all of the major food manufacturers and soft drink companies, including retailers, asking for their perspective on the fairest approach to reformulation, following the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) recent call for a mandated (regulated) reformulation system. The letter merely sought information and was in no way trying to dictate to industry. Extraordinarily, the FDF stated they did not see the additional value of providing this information to CASH and Action on Sugar.
There is universal agreement amongst Public Health England and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) about the evidence-based actions needed to change the food environment, in order to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes. By far, the most important action is reformulation whereby the unnecessary amounts of sugar and fat in processed foods and drinks are slowly reduced. These products are calorie-dense, give no feeling of fullness and, unsurprisingly, make us obese.
To achieve a calorie reduction sufficient to prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes, there must be at least a 50% reduction in sugar and 20% reduction in fat. From CASH’s large experience with salt reformulation, it is their view that this could be achieved over a period of 5-7 years. However, to achieve the reductions needed to tackle the obesity crisis, it would be easier and much more effective to have a mandated or regulated system, as the BRC are calling for.
Professor Graham MacGregor, says: “This is typical of the mentality of the FDF, trying to dictate to us and to the industry what we can and can’t do in trying to tackle Britain’s escalating obesity crisis and is a clear attempt at preventing NGOs and the food industry to communicate and express their views openly. The FDF is clearly trying to do everything in its power to stop a coherent plan for sugar and fat reduction, just as they previously rigorously opposed any attempt of salt reduction. Despite this, the branded food industry did reduce the amount of salt added to their food. It was only then that the FDF congratulated itself for all of the good work they had done to encourage salt reduction. Quite frankly, in my view they are an antediluvian organisation which only represents a few of the worst branded companies in the UK.”
Despite FDF’s interference, many of its members replied very positively to the letter and are engaging with CASH and Action on Sugar in a constructive dialogue as to how to tackle the UK’s obesity and type 2 diabetes crisis. This is a major opportunity for the British food industry to lead the world in preventing obesity and type 2 diabetes, as it did with salt – which is particularly important in light of a recent report by Euromonitor that confirms Britons consume more than twice as much sugar in one day than the global average.
The UK food industry already has considerable experience of reformulation with the salt reduction programme. Experience from both the Food Standards Agency (an independent agency) and the Responsibility Deal (run by the Department of Health), clearly indicates the need for mandatory reduction targets which will create the essential level playing field across industry and has already been backed by many branded companies and leading retailers.
The NHS currently spends more than £5bn per year on obesity-related disease and over £10bn per year on diabetes. This will continue to escalate. In addition, almost 41,000 children had tooth extractions under general anaesthetic in 2014-15.
Action on Sugar has also appealed to David Cameron this week asking for clarification as to when his long overdue Childhood Obesity Strategy will be announced. It is clear that the FDF is trying to dilute the Strategy and it is vital that Cameron should listen to individual companies, who are far more current and on the ball than the FDF, who have a long history of trying to delay any comprehensive strategy to improve the nation’s diet.
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