FDF defends food industry commitment to health

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Asda Nutrition

Consumer groups should stop painting the food industry as the
villain, says the UK's Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

"It's disappointing to see industry continue to be painted as the villain, when consumers can see for themselves how the foods they buy and the labels on them are improving,"​ said FDF communications director Julian Hunt.

The organisation's comments follow the publication of the National Consumer Council (NCC)'s 2006 report Short-changed on health?​, which claimed that economy-range supermarket foods were not contributing to healthy diets.

The NCC report said that consumers who rely on supermarket economy-range foods could be short-changed on their health. It claimed that some supermarkets are undermining efforts to reduce health inequalities.

"Not only were there fewer healthy food promotions in supermarkets where low income consumers are likely to shop, but most supermarket economy lines contained significantly more salt - and slightly more fat and sugar - than their standard own-brand lines,"​ said the NCC.

"For instance, an economy-line breakfast of two slices of toast with spread, two sausages, baked beans and tomato ketchup could contain as much as two-thirds of the recommended daily salt intake for an adult. Morrisons was the worst offender, closely followed by Somerfield.

"Even the Tesco breakfast, which was the least salty, had more than half the recommended daily amount for an adult."

The FDF however claims that it is unfair to chastise the food industry without recognising the progress that has been made. Across Europe, food companies claim to be delivering on their commitments under the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, initiated by Commissioner Kyprianou nearly two years ago, through a revolution in product reformulation, education, labelling, research, physical education and also responsible advertising and marketing.

CIAA president Jean Martin said that 11 companies representing approximately €61 billion in annual sales in Europe, or roughly 7 per cent of all sales in our industry, reported that they had put more than 4,000 new product reformulations or innovations on the market over the past three years.

Martin said that these new or reformulated products represent on average nearly two-fifths of all the food and beverage products these companies sell to European consumers; and one in three companies say they have gone even further, reformulating at least half of their products in 2005 and 2006.

It's been well documented how the food industry retailers and manufacturers alike have worked closely with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and made enormous cuts in salt in foods, with similar action taken on delivering reduced sugar and fat options for consumers,"​ said Hunt.

Lord Larry Whitty, chair of the NCC, did acknowledge that some advances in product reformulation have been made. But he argued that these changes should be extended across every range.

"Consumers who rely heavily on economy ranges are clearly being short-changed on health,"​ he said. "Supermarkets' poor performance on economy lines is a backward step since last year.

"Supermarkets have made progress on reducing salt in their standard food lines, so there's no good reason why they cant do the same with economy lines. Supermarkets should behave more responsibly. Budget-conscious shoppers must not be shut out from eating healthily."

The NCC's report rates supermarkets on their efforts to encourage healthy eating across a range of indicators - from the salt content of own-brand lines, price promotions and the prevalence of snacks at checkouts, to labelling and the information and advice available to customers.

This year's overall top-rated supermarket is Sainsburys up from fourth place last year. Waitrose and Tesco are in joint second place and Marks & Spencer at number four.

Last year's number one, the Co-op, has slipped to joint fifth place with Asda. Somerfield and Morrisons are at the bottom of the table - in seventh and eighth place - for the third year running.

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