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Industry making progress on public health goals, but more work to do, says UK minister

By Nathan Gray+

23-Jan-2013
Last updated on 24-Jan-2013 at 01:57 GMT

UK minister Anna Sourby warned the food and drink industry that they may face legislative action unless more sign up to the Government's responsibility deals.
UK minister Anna Sourby warned the food and drink industry that they may face legislative action unless more sign up to the Government's responsibility deals.

Industry members signed up to the UK government’s package of responsibility deals are making good progress, but there are far too many firms that are not playing a role, warns the UK health minister Anna Soubry.

Speaking at the launch of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) report on ‘Delivering Healthy Growth’ yesterday, Soubry who is the parliamentary under secretary of state for health told delegates the food and drink industry has a ‘moral responsibility’ to lower levels of salt, sugar, and fat in their products – and signing up to the UK’s public Health Responsibility Deal will help with that.

"Industry has a moral responsibility now to sign up to the Responsibility Deal," said Sourby.

"To companies not involved, this needs to change.”

“I do not want to regulate … but people expect certain standards in food and the content of food … you have a moral responsibility because you are incredibly powerful,” warned the minister.

Sign up or face legislation

Sourby complimented the industry on the action already taken, but warned that unless more firms sign up to the deals then political and public pressure could force the UK government to pursue legislative actions.

“I’m the sort of politician who is not a food fascist … I’m never going to say to anybody: ‘You should not eat this.’ … my message is: ‘All good food in sensible moderation’,” said Soubry. 

“I don’t want to be in a position of having to go to the secretary of state or the Prime Minister and for them to say to me, ‘Anna, the Responsibility Deal is not delivering in the way that it must for the sake of our nation, so we are now going to have to look at legislation’.”

Make it uncomfortable

Also speaking at the event, Dr Susan Jebb, chairwoman for the responsibility deal food network, said industry, government and the media should all play a role in making it uncomfortable for those firms who have yet to take action.

Experts taking part in a panel discussion also said the fact that one group of industry members were doing ‘a lot of the heavy lifting’ while another group reaped the benefits was neither fair or acceptable.

Jebb also said that campaigners and the media could help to showcase the strides that are being made:

"We need to put spotlight on companies not making commitment to the deal,” she said. “Why are they not stepping up to the plate?"

“Could we spend less time nit-picking at the fine details of those signed up and rather expose those not signed up?” she questioned. “It’s down to us all to name and shame those not involved.”

A success story?

The new FDF report showcases a host of industry actions; ranging from cutting edge processes that enable recipes to be changed to reduce salt, saturated fat and energy density, to workplace wellbeing schemes that work to improve the health of thousands of industry employees.

Richard Evans, president of PepsiCo UK & Ireland and FDF health and wellbeing chair, said food and drink manufacturers are ‘acutely aware of their responsibilities’, adding that the new report “demonstrates manufacturers’ on-going commitment to working both independently and in partnership with other stakeholders towards improved public health.”

“We are seeing real, measurable results, such as a 10% reduction in the salt levels of products made by FDF’s members when compared to 2008,” said Evans.

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