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Government defends its healthy eating initiative

23 March 2012 by
Government defends its healthy eating initiative

Critics of the Government's Public Health Responsibility Deal are urged to be "realistic", following a report by Which? released last week, a year since the scheme was introduced.

The consumer group released its research into the Government's approach to tackling barriers to healthy eating in the UK.

It said that there had not been enough action and that while 91% of UK adults actively try to eat a healthy diet, 28% are not satisfied the Government is doing enough to help them.

But health secretary Andrew Lansley insisted that the Deal's first year has "delivered results" with the secured pledges meaning that more than 70% of fast food and takeaway meals sold on the high street will have their calorific content displayed because of agreements with firms such as Pret a Manger, Subway, Yo! Sushi and McDonald's.

The Which? report also found that only two of the top restaurant and pub groups (Harvester and Wetherspoon) had agreed to provide calorie information, while major food outlets such as Costa Coffee and Pizza Express had "failed to sign up".

But a spokesperson for Pizza Express confirmed that the company has now committed to the Deal as a continuation of its work with the Food Standards Authority (FSA), adding: "We believe that if a customer wants calorie information, they should have it."

The company said it has made a comprehensive list of calorie information available in its restaurants, as well as on its website and smartphone app.

Tracey Rogers, managing director of Unilever Food Solutions, pointed out in a letter to Caterer and Hotelkeeper (see page 18) that while more companies could still commit to the Government scheme, a lot of positive initiatives are already under way in the industry.

She said: "Which? cited that Beefeater and Costa Coffee hadn't signed up to the calorie labelling pledge, yet the Whitbread Group has ensured all nutritional and allergen information is available for each of its brands on the relevant websites."

Rogers went on to emphasise that changes take time and the obesity epidemic will not be reversed overnight. "Businesses are continuing to prioritise health but we need to be realistic," she added.

The Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers, also backed Lansley and said that the scheme's voluntary approach has achieved some considerable progress in just one year.

"Over 70% of the retail market and 47% of the major high street and contract caterers have committed to further reductions in salt in over 80 categories of food, with FDF members making up nearly 30% of signatories," said Terry Jones, its director of communications.

"Furthermore, 90 companies have signed up to the pledge to remove artificial trans fats, a quarter of whom are FDF members, which in total represents 69% of the retail market."

However, not enough has been done to appease healthy eating champions, such as Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator at the Children's Food Campaign. He told the Guardian newspaper that the Government continues to let manufacturers and retailers off the hook by not taking a tougher stance.

"If this initiative is to shake off its ‘irresponsibility deal' moniker, the Government is going to have to develop sticks to go with the carrots it's handing out," he added.

But Caroline Fry, chief executive of contract caterer CH&Co, said that persuading people to embrace healthy eating is a communication challenge rather than a regulatory one.

"We believe that issues such as these are better tackled by marketing than regulation," she explained. "It's a more effective, and cost-effective, approach than a change in the law."

By Janie Manzoori-Stamford

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