Restaurants, pubs and caterers should sign up to a Government-backed scheme to improve public health if they want to avoid mandatory regulation.
That's the message from the British Hospitality Association (BHA) after Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (pictured) launched the Government's "Responsibility Deal", which aims to get private companies to take more responsibility for public health.
More than 140 organisations have so far signed up to at least one of the 19 pledges, which include commitments on alcohol labelling, calorie counts on menus, and salt reduction (see below).
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the BHA, said that while the technical and cost problems associated with implementing calorie counting were recognised, particularly for small independent businesses, firms should sign up to as many pledges as they could.
"This will show the industry's commitment to the programme and help to avoid a statutory approach which is possible if the voluntary approach is not widely taken up," she said.
Compass Group, Seven Day Catering and Yo! Sushi were the only three operators to sign up to all three food pledges on calorie labelling, salt reduction and the removal of transfats.
Simon Horsley, safety, health and environment manager at 7 Day Catering, said: "When you look at the pledges, they're not insurmountable. I think more operators will follow suit as they start to realise what's involved and see the momentum that will gather behind it."
Meanwhile, Michael Turner, chairman of brewer and pub company Fuller's, which has signed up to six of the pledges related to alcohol, also urged companies to sign up.
"This is a constructive move to get all major companies to commit to addressing the most important health issues of today," he said. "A commitment from those companies is far more important than trying to frame laws and further red tape, which won't achieve the desired ends."
But earlier this week, six health groups - including Alcohol Concern and the Royal College of Physicians - refused to put their names to the pledges on alcohol contained within the deal. The health organisations said they were concerned it was not clear what would happen if the alcohol industry did not meet the commitments.
They also highlighted fears the pledges were not measurable and lacked scope.
Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, which has signed up to pledges on awareness of alcohol units in the on trade and tackling under-age alcohol sales, told *Catere*r: "It's a pity. Those that think the medics taking their toys away is a good thing have missed the point. We have readily entered into a responsibility deal with good conscience."
What the responsibility deal contains
The Government's public health responsibility deal has been devised by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. It attempts to encourage private companies to work with Government to improve health in four main areas: food, alcohol, physical activity and health at work. Private companies have the option of signing up to individual pledges in each area.
The pledges covering food commit signatories to:
â- Reduce salt so that people eat 1g less a day by the end of next year
â- Remove artificial transfats by the end of 2011
â- Simple consistent information in the on-trade to raise awareness of unit content, with messages from health bodies on drinking guidelines
â- 80% of products on shelf to be labelled with clear unit content by December 2013
â- Clearer information on units, calorie counts and health risks of over-consumption in the off-trade
â- Reduce and prevent under-age sales through Challenge 21 and Challenge 25
â- Maintain levels of financial support for Drinkaware
â- No alcohol adverts within 100 metres of schools
â- Support for local initiatives such as Best Bar None and Pub Watch