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Opposition to obligatory calorie counting policy mounts as Treasury opposes move

05 September 2018 by

Opposition is rising to a policy that would make calorie counting mandatory in restaurants, with the Treasury saying it is likely to block the move to protect small businesses.

The policy, which is being pushed by the health department's new minister Matt Hancock, would see all food outlets forced to declare the calorie counts of their dishes.

However, sources in the Treasury have hit out at the move, which is currently under consultation. The policy will be unable to move forward without the department's approval.

In a leaked letter, the chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss (pictured), told the prime minister's right-hand man, David Lidington, that her department would be likely to block the policy as it stands.

She wrote: "I am concerned these proposals could result in job losses and higher food prices being passed on to consumers.

"It could cost businesses, including SMEs, up to £13m (an average of £500 each for 26,000 businesses per year), and individual costs may be particularly burdensome to micro and small businesses, which frequently change their menus to offer seasonal local foods.

"I am also concerned that the accompanying impact assessment may underestimate the cost to businesses of ongoing compliance with complex and specific new regulations."

She added that "at this stage I am not agreeing to any preferred option or final policy change for small or micro businesses.

"We should take a final decision following this consultation and informed by the evidence submitted to it. HM Treasury clearance is required for government's response to this consultation." UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls also cautioned against the policy, saying it would have a "significant impact" on the sector and particularly on small businesses. She added: "The knock-on effect would almost certainly mean prices go up and investment in businesses goes down. There is also a serious potential that mandatory calorie labelling would undermine businesses' efforts to tackle food waste, which is a growing concern for consumers and an area of innovation for businesses. "A blanket introduction of inflexible calorie labelling would represent a serious additional cost for businesses already facing tightening margins and economic instability. It would also represent a considerable burden for those venues that change their menus regularly, some on a daily basis, to incorporate locally sourced produce, seasonal ingredients and specials. "Small and medium-sized businesses might also find their ability to innovate, particularly when tackling food waste, severely restricted. "We are supportive of efforts to promote healthier eating habits and the sector is already taking decisive, proactive action to reformulate menus to reduce calories and increase transparency and choice for customers. Many larger venues already include calorie content on their menus voluntarily, with many high street brands providing customers with unprecedented level of information. "But even larger businesses, operating numerous distinct brands, rely on the flexibility provided by voluntary labelling." Meanwhile the public is split on the matter - with a recent YouGov poll showing 42% of people believed calorie counts should be compulsory, while 42% did not. Exclusive: Business rates ‘could be scrapped by next year' under Lib Dem campaign, party leader reveals>>](/articles/536303/exclusive-business-rates-could-be-scrapped-by-next-year-under-lib-dem-campaign-party-leader-reveals)
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