Last week, Food Standards Agency chief executive Tim Smith urged the industry to back nutritional labelling on menus. But Bob Cotton, British Hospitality Assocation chief executive, says it is the wrong time to launch such a measure.
Tim Smith admitted this is one of the toughest trading climates in decades. Why, then, is the Food Standards Agency (FSA) introducing a measure that will add cost to every hospitality business in the land?
He says that consumers have asked for calorie-counted information on menus, yet no BHA member has had any experience of customers asking for nutritional information. If calorie-counted menus change eating habits, where is the evidence? Yes, a similar scheme has been introduced in New York, but it has not yet been evaluated.
The practicality and cost of calorie labelling has certainly not been thought through. Only the very largest catering business has any nutritional resource. Individual restaurateurs will not have the knowledge, expertise, equipment or time to calorie-count dishes made fresh every day. They will have to buy in this expertise, adding cost at a time when survival is the name of the game. True, at present this scheme is voluntary - but how soon will it become statutory? Certainly, this has been hinted at by Dawn Primarolo, the minister for public health.
The FSA is adding confusion through other measures. As a result of heavy lobbying from local authorities, it has rejected its own executive's recommendation for a three-tier-plus-fail scheme for Scores on the Doors. Why reinvent the wheel? If the FSA wants to find a scheme which helps consumers make healthy choices when eating out, it need look no further than Scotland.
The Healthy Living Award for Caterers, developed in collaboration with Consumer Focus, the Scottish Government, caterers, FSA Scotland and the BHA, has been operated for more than two years and has been accepted by consumers as an excellent method of providing the information they want when eating out.
In adopting this scheme, the FSA could save itself and the industry a great deal of time and effort - and no little cost.
If, as he claims, Tim Smith really does understand that the industry is in the middle of the most difficult trading downturn in recent memory, his actions hardly reflect his concern. Please let the industry survive the current recession. Let's have no further regulations.