The government launched a major programme to combat obesity in January this year, pledging 372m to the cause. Alongside elements like increasing activity levels, providing advice and incentives and supporting healthy development of children, this programme includes the promotion of healthier food choices. This is called the Healthy Food Code of Good Practice.
In a letter dated July 15, the food regulator informed stakeholders including businesses, trade associations and non-governmental organisations of seven areas in which it is expecting food sectors to take action in line with the code.
- A single front-of-pack labelling scheme
- smaller portion sizes for energy-dense and high salt foods
- marketing food to children
- saturated fat and sugar levels, particularly beverages
- increasing consumption of healthier foods
- a single set of key healthy eating messages
- nutritional information on food eaten out of the home
Crucially for an industry that has found itself in the firing line over the health profile of some products in the past, the FSA has said it recognises that work is underway in some of these areas.
However the FSA has said it wants to translate high level objectives into “transparent, concrete outcomes against which we can monitor progress”.
It says the code is intended to be stretching, and that the government is expecting all areas to be pushed forward at the same time.
In addition, the code asks industry to make substantive and quantifiable commitments, and timescales are to be set for delivery.
The FSA is planning a number of meetings to gauge feedback and partner with industry on the plans, the first of which will be scheduled for the autumn. These include a meeting between stakeholders, health minister Dawn Primarolo and FSA chair Dame Deirdre Hutton, and seminars on food practice.
Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, welcomed FSA’s letter:
“This letter gives much-needed clarity about what will happen next and we look forward to continuing our work with Government in the areas covered by the Healthy Food Code of Good Practice,” he said.
“We are pleased to see that the huge contribution already made by manufacturers to improving the health of the nation has been recognised in this letter and we look forward to building on our achievements to date. Our members have shown real leadership in areas such as labelling, reformulation and marketing.”
Hunt stressed that the FDF has always held that the food industry and government must work together.
The FSA included in its letter a progress report on work that is currently underway, and what the next steps are.
This includes action on front-of pack labelling schemes. While voluntary schemes are presently being used, an independent UK-wide evaluation is underway and due for completion in December.
Meanwhile, at a European level, the UK government is agreeing its line on EU Commission proposals on food information.
On saturated fat and energy, the FSA has already published its programme, which includes portion size; it also recently published the report of an academic workshop on portion size.
A meeting to discuss the results of the portion size workshop is planned for the autumn, and will include the identification of priorities and timescales.
On reduction of saturated fat and sugar in foods, the FSA already has a programme in place. In 2008 it is to establish saturated fat and energy working groups to cover different industry sectors. By the end of the year it expects to have a timetable in place for agreeing programmes of work and milestones.