by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: UK

Jun 21 2022

The UK’s Government Food Strategy: no there there?

The UK government has just published its long-awaited food strategy to almost universal disappointment.

But first, some background. Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the UK’s strategy proposals.  These had been commissioned from Henry Dimbleby, a restaurateur with a deep interest in food policy (the British version of Jose Andres?).

To summarize what I said in July 2021.

Henry Dimbleby described the UK’s National Food Strategy as  a “bit of a labour of love.”  It came a slide deck of 175 items.

A separate document. summarizes the report’s 14 recommendations.  Most of the recommendations dealt with school feeding and feeding programs for the poor.  Others:

Recommendation 1. Introduce a sugar and salt reformulation tax.  This came with a separate report on the impact of such a tax; it recommended using revenues to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low income families.

Recommendation 11. Invest £1 billion in innovation to create a better food system.

Recommendation 13. Strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food.

So, does the strategy do any of these things?  I have to confess finding the report unreadable.  It is extremely wordy and imprecise, talks a lot about objectives, but says almost nothing specific.  Here is just one example:

The strategy comes at a time of significant increases in food prices, largely because of energy prices and exacerbated by events in Ukraine, which is very challenging for people across the country. We are engaging closely with the food industry to understand price impacts and any mitigating measures, including through our Food Industry Resilience Forum and UK Agricultural Market Monitoring Group. We are also working closely with third sector organisations to understand challenges related to food access.

One section gives action items (I have edited these for clarity):

  • Keep producing domestic food at current levels
  • Promote job training for the agri-food industry.
  • Reduce childhood obesity by half by 2030; reduce diet-related disease; increase healthier food
  • Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the environmental impacts of the food system
  • Export £1 trillion of food annually by 2030
  • Maintain high standards for food consumed in the UK

How?  It doesn’t really say.  The one action item I could locate is to create a Food Data Transparency Partnership.

The partnership will champion consumer interests, providing people with the information they need to make more sustainable, ethical, and healthier food choices, and incentivise industry to produce healthier and more ethical and sustainable food….This partnership will join up with existing work across government to promote healthier food choices, so that government can speak with one voice to industry. It will also support further measures to strengthen incentives to reformulate food, promote healthier food and turn the trend on the overconsumption of calories to tackle obesity.

Unsurprisingly, reactions have been fierce: not a strategy, disappointing, nothing concrete about obesity , health, or reducing meat as a means to address climate change.  If those things are there, I couldn’t find them.

I also couldn’t find The Guardian’s most amusing criticism of the report:

Among its few policy proposals are the suggestion there could be more fish farming, which is environmentally controversial, and an increase in the use of “responsibly sourced wild venison”.

Is that in the report?  I can’t find any reference to venison or deer, however sourced.

Other critiques in The Guardian are here and here.

This is a lost opportunity, and a big one.  Disappointing, indeed.

May 11 2022

Food industry opposes the UK’s strategy to improve health

Last month, the UK government announced guidance for the food industry on compliance with its new policies on dealing with foods High in Fat, Sugar, or Salt (HFSS): Restricting promotions of products high in fat, sugar or salt by location and by volume price: implementation guidance.  

The food industry is not happy about these policies.

Kellogg has launched a legal challenge.

Kellogg has launched a legal challenge against the Government’s upcoming restrictions on retail promotions for food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), claiming the rules unfairly represented breakfast cereals.

On what basis?

The manufacturer argued that the formula used tomeasure the nutritional value of food was wrong when it came to breakfast cereals, as the Nutrient Profiling Model (NPM) only accounted for portions of dry cereals and not for a bowl of cereal and milk…Breakfast cereals are dehydrated foods, that are intended to absorb milk to make the food more palatable and give the food its intended flavour and texture.  Hardly anyone sits down to a bowl of dry breakfast cereals in the morning – cereals are almost always eaten with milk.

What’s really at stake?

From October this year, new legislation will restrict retail promotion of HFSS products. The changes could lead to a reported loss of 1.1bn per year.

The food industry is also arguing that the new regulations will cause a consumer backlash.

These restrictions might escape public scrutiny, but consumers will get a horrible shock when they wake up one day and find their favourite brands have been ruined by regulation and cost more.  Unless manufacturers fight back, be it in the courts or out in the public square, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.

And that the HFSS regulations won’t do any good.

The soft drink industry, however, sees the regulations as no problem: “The soft drinks category will be affected by new HFSS legislation coming into force in England. But having already done plenty of work in reformulating and innovating for the UK sugar tax, the sector is well placed to turn a challenge into an opportunity.”

What’s all this about?  Here’s a quick review of the HFSS history:

2018: In Chapter 2 of the Childhood Obesity Plan,  the UK government set out its intention to end the promotion of high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products by location and by price.  It committed to consult on how this should be implemented.  This was based on evidence that food retail price promotions are widespread and effective at influencing food preferences and purchases (particularly for children), and on previous reports recommending reducing and rebalancing promotions towards healthier food and drink to help prevent obesity in children.

2019: The consultation on restricting the promotion of HFSS products was held.

2020:  The government theld a consultation on technical enforcement of the restrictions.  It announced in Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives, that it would legislate to end promotion of HFSS products by volume (for example, “buy one get one free”) and location both online and in store in England.  It published a formal consultation response.

2021: The government introduced legislation to restrict the promotion of HFSS products by volume price both online and in store in England., based on the nutrient profiling technical guidance 2011.) These regulations will come into force on 1 October 2022.

2022: The new restrictions on HFAA promotion. 

Jul 22 2021

The UK’s National Food Strategy

Yesterday’s post was about the UK’s efforts to restrict the marketing of junk foods to children.  This is part of a larger effort to establish a rational framework for improving the entire food system.

In 2020, the government published Part One of the Food Strategy Report it had commissioned from Henry Dimbleby.  The report comes with a 3-minute film explaining what it is about.

The Part One report announced a forthcoming Part Two to evaluate the current system and set recommendations, and explained its philosophical basis:

Should nanny tell us what to eat?

The already complex job of working out how to help different people in different circumstances is complicated by one of the fundamental questions of political philosophy: what role should the state play in the private lives of its citizens? Libertarians and public health campaigners have fought a running battle for years over this question. But when it comes to diet, even fierce opponents of the “nanny state” now recognize that the problem is serious enough to warrant greater state intervention….The vast majority of those we spoke to (and almost every parent) said they were fed up with being bombarded by junk food marketing and thought the state should intervene.

Henry Dimbleby’s Part Two report is now out (he described it to me in an e-mail as a “bit of a labour of love”).  Here it is: The UK’s National Food Strategy

His report is based on evidence summarized in a slide deck of 175 items.

The report’s 14 recommendations are summarized, with rationale and references, in a separate document.  Most of the recommendations deal with school feeding and and feeding programs for the poor.  Some are likely to get focused attention:

  • Recommendation 1. Introduce a sugar and salt reformulation tax. Use some of the revenue to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low income families.
  • Recommendation 11. Invest £1 billion in innovation to create a better food system.
  • Recommendation 13. Strengthen government procurement rules to ensure that taxpayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food.

The first recommendation comes with its own, separate report on the impact of a tax on added sugar and salt.

The responses:

From The Guardian

The government-commissioned National Food Strategy, drawn up by the restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, says the UK population’s “malfunctioning” appetites and poor diets – fuelled by consumer and manufacturer’s reliance on processed food – place an unsustainable burden on the NHS and contribute to 64,000 deaths each year.

Its most eye-catching recommendation is a levy of £3 a kilo on sugar and £6 a kilo on salt sold wholesale for use in processed food, restaurants and catering, which it says would be a world first. This would raise up to £3.4bn a year, some of which should fund an expansion of free schools meals to an extra 1.1 million children and an overhaul of itain’s food and cooking culture… Dimbleby believes the tax would incentivise manufacturers to reduce salt and sugar levels by reformulating products.

From FoodNavigator.com: From taxing salt and sugar to reducing animal proteins: The controversial proposals in the UK’s National Food Strategy paper.  In 2019 the UK government commissioned a review of the country’s food system. Today, the results are in – and the far-reaching paper includes some controversial recommendations…. Read more  [note: This has a good summary of the 14 recommendations].

From FoodManufacture.com

And for a broad look at what’s happening in UK food policy, see: Testing Times for UK Food Policy: Nine principles and Tests, by Tim Lang, Erik Millstone, Terry Marsden.  This deals with holding governments accountable.

The Discussion Paper examines the state of post-EU UK food security and policy. It applies a multi-criteria approach, seeing food not as a matter that can be reduced to one overarching goal – cheapness, say, or supermarket availability – but as an issue on which public policy has to weigh up and include several equally worthy and evidence-based concerns. The report offers an approach to ensuring UK food security in the years ahead. It offers nine public-interest Principles which should guide future food policy. These propose that it is possible to capture a consensus on the need for change and what it entails. Each Principle leads to a Test that the UK public and policy-makers could apply to any policy proposals for the food system that emanate from Government in coming months.

Tim Lang’s book, Feeding Britain, is essential reading to understand what’s happening—and not happening—in the UK.

The UK government is thinking and acting on food policy issues.  If only ours did too.

Jul 21 2021

UK Government to restrict TV and online junk food ads to kids (by the end of 2022)

The UK government is actively trying to promote healthier diets.

On June 24, the British government announced:  Introducing further advertising restrictions on TV and online for products high in fat, salt and sugar [HFSS]: government response

Rationale: “Current advertising restrictions for HFSS products during children’s TV and other programming of particular appeal to children are insufficient to protect children from seeing a significant amount of unhealthy food adverts on TV, and do not account for the increasing amount of time children spend online. Analysis from September 2019 demonstrated that almost half (47.6%) of all food adverts shown over the month on ITV1, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky1 were for HFSS products and this rises to nearly 60% during the 6pm to 9pm slot.”

Research basis: The Advertising Standards Authority’s  position paper on Advertising to Children.

The final policy

  • By the end of 2022, establish a 9:00 pm TV watershed for HFSS products [meaning this applies until 9:00 p.m.] as well as restrict paid-for HFSS advertising online.
  • The HPSS ad watershed applies to all on-demand programme services (ODPS) under the jurisdiction of the UK.
  • The restriction of paid-for HGSS ads onlinealso  applies to non-UK regulated ODPS.
  • The policy will be evaluated 5 years post implementation, in 2027.

Critique

From the food industry: Will the UK’s junk food marketing clampdown combat childhood obesity?  The UK Government announced plans to limit the advertising of unhealthy foods last week. The food and advertising industries expressed ‘disappointment’ at ‘draconian’ measures, while health campaigners welcomed the news but voiced concern over possible future loopholes. With so many complex and interlinked issues driving childhood obesity rates, the most important question remains: Will it work?… Read more 

From The Guardian: “UK government’s plans for pre-9 pm ban on junk food TV adverts criticised,”

Government plans to restrict junk food advertising on television and online have been criticised by campaigners who say they contain too many exemptions to affect rising levels of obesity in the UK.

The new rules, which were announced on Thursday and come into force from the end of next year, will ban adverts for products deemed to be high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) before the 9pm watershed. Paid-for ads on sites including Facebook and Google by big brands will also be banned.

However, the government has allowed numerous exceptions and carve-outs. Companies will be able to show marketing on their own websites and social media accounts. The restrictions will not apply to marketing by smaller companies of fewer than 250 employees.

So: Are these policies a force for good?  For this, we will have to wait and see.

But all measures aimed at restricting food marketing to children are worth considering, and the UK government is at least taking the issue somewhat seriously.

Tomorrow: The UK’s new Food Strategy Report.