The Scottish government has shelved a standard for responsible food and drink marketing intended to tackle Scotland’s obesity problem, after food industry participants withdrew from discussions.
The government said in April that it would develop a third party certified publically available specification (PAS 2500) on responsible food and drink marketing in partnership with the British Standards Institute (BSI). A Steering Group was set up, consisting mainly of food industry and marketing associations “to give the process credibility and to ensure engagement and industry buy-in.”
However, in a letter addressed to Steering Group members seen by FoodNavigator, the BSI said that although there seemed to be agreement that the project should be attempted, “it was apparent that there was considerable scepticism in respect of the validity of the objectives for the PAS, amongst some sections of the stakeholder community”.
The industry ‘supports balance’
The standard was intended to provide a benchmark for the responsible marketing of food and drink to cut consumption of food high in fat, salt and sugar, but industry trade body, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), says that it did not recognise that current approaches to food promotion already encourage balanced diets.
“By changing product recipes, creating new healthier options, investing in consumer education, providing clear labelling and promoting a wide range of products, the industry supports individuals to find the right balance,” said FDF director of communication Terry Jones.
“The PAS process did not recognise this context. It would restrict the information available to consumers and risk undermining one of Scotland’s most important industries and putting up prices for hard pressed consumers.”
No one from the FDF responded prior to publication to a query about which information would be restricted.
Government ‘could not continue without industry involvement’
The Scottish government said that it was now considering industry responses to draft proposals on other voluntary measures to encourage healthy choices, and aims to publish strategies for marketing and reformulation in April next year.
Referring to the shelved specification, a government spokesperson told this publication: “Unfortunately it could not continue without the food industry’s involvement. However, we welcome the assurance from all parties that they remain committed to constructive engagement on the issue of marketing of HFSS foods.”
Consumer watchdog organisation Which? urged the Scottish government to set out how it is now going to ensure action on more responsible marketing.
"People tell us that responsible marketing is one of the main areas they think Government should address to make it easier for people to eat healthily so it's disappointing that talks have ended because of the withdrawal of the main industry groups,” a spokesperson said.