Speaking at the Health of the Nation conference in Westminster, FDF's director general, Melanie Leech, welcomed the 'Food Matters: Towards a Strategy for the 21st Century' report, which was published this week by the UK government and stressed the need for a supportive environment for competitive UK food producers. "Too often we have been on the receiving end of confused or conflicting signals about priorities and expectations from government and not known who to talk to, to seek the clarity which allows businesses to invest and plan with confidence," said Leech. Leech also described recent advances in the UK food industry for supporting the health of the nation, such as extensive reformulation, Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) labelling, and establishing workplace schemes to promote healthy eating. Government strategy The government's Strategy Unity has recommended a strategic policy for the food industry that focuses on four key issues:
Fair prices, choice, access to food and food security though the promotion of open and competitive markets
Continuous improvement in the safety of food
The changes needed to deliver healthier diets
A more environmentally sustainable food chain
Leech said one of the major challenges for the new Food Strategy Task Force is to "hold government to a clarity of vision about its strategy, so that industry is no longer pulled in different directions by different departments, nor expected to bear the load of additional costs deriving from policy based on evidence that is debatable at best". Surveys carried out by Professor Bruce Traill from the University of Reading and published by the FDF last month found that executives said the industry needs better regulation, and that those laws that have been introduced are often lacking in sufficient consultation because the government is eager to "satisfy public opinion". The industry needs regulation to be timely and evidence-based, said the report. The need for a single standard for the measurement of a product's carbon footprint was considered urgent and. Study participants said firms were already introducing labelling schemes that are perceived as contradictory, confusing and meaningless. Furthermore, industry members felt the UK enforces EU legislation much more energetically than some other member states. They thought the answer lay not in relaxing enforcement in the UK, but to press other member states to apply rules with the same rigour and for the European Commission to ensure they prevent unfair competition. Food prices and promoting health Leech referred to the problem of food prices, which continue to be volatile amid the global food crisis, and said that "a tight focus on priorities and on burdens on businesses in not just a policy 'add-on' but essential to protect consumers". To help consumers make more healthy choices, the food industry has reformulated £15bn (€18.8bn) worth of products to have lower levels of salt, fat or sugar and a further £11.5bn (€14.4bn) worth of products have been launched that are lower in salt, fat or sugar. The Food Standards Agency has also unveiled its Saturated Fat and Energy Programme, which includes encouraging industry to find new ways of reformulating products to reduce their saturated fat content. "That will be tough, because saturated fat is not the same as, say, salt," said Leech. "But we're pleased that our FSA colleagues recognise the importance of building constructive working relationships with industry as the best way of generating positive outcomes." Leech also praised the success of the GDA scheme, which has been adopted by more than 60 manufacturers o about 20,000 product lines in the UL as well as making appearances in all 27 EU member states. She said: "When it comes to important areas such as reformulation, extending consumer choice, boosting the nutrition information we carry on our packs and improving the wellbeing of the people who work in our offices and factories, fantastic progress has been made."