A food industry pledge to reduce the saturated fat content in a range of foods is a ‘bit of hype’ and will fail to change diets unless more companies sign up, according to trustee of the National Obesity Forum Tam Fry.
The UK Department of Health’s public health minister Jane Ellison announced the pledge on Saturday, under which some of the signatory companies have pledged to remove saturated fat from their products, and others have said they would reduce saturated fat content.
“It’s hugely encouraging that companies providing almost half of the food available on the UK market have committed to this new Responsibility Deal pledge and they are leading the way to give their customers healthier products and lower fat alternatives,” Ellison said in a statement.
According to the DoH, cutting saturated fat consumption by 15% could prevent around 2,600 premature deaths a year in the UK, from conditions such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.
However, Fry said government could do much more by regulating saturated fat in products, rather than allowing industry to opt in to the initiative.
He told FoodNavigator: “What I really grieve at is that when the Department of Health makes this bit of hype, only under 50% of manufacturers and stores will be complying with this, which means that more than 50% are still swimming in sat fat.
“Industry has been wilfully slow in reformulating. The British government has been wilfully slow and relied on the Responsibility Deal, which it must know is never going to work unless it is regulated.”
Mixed message disaster
He also said that the timing of the announcement had caused particular confusion, coming just after a widely reported column by cardiologist Aseem Malhotra in the British Medical Journal, in which he questioned the role of saturated fat in heart disease.
“The mixed message is a disaster,” he said. “Poor people who now have to figure out whether they should be eating sat fat or not.”
Companies that have pledged to remove saturated fat from their products include Nestlé, which will reformulate Kit Kat bars to remove more than 3,800 tonnes of saturated fat a year and retailers Tesco, Morrisons, Aramark and Cricketer Farm.
Other food manufacturers that have signed up to the initiative include Mondelez International, which will reformulate its BelVita, Oreo and Barny brands, and Unilever, which has said it will invest in its healthier spreads and blends and by encourage swaps in cooking and baking with lower saturated fat alternatives.