Hopes for lifting the protein cap could be dashed

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Uk food standards agency

The Food and Drink Federation said it is baffled by a Food Standards Agency recommendation to keep the protein cap that limits products such as cereals being advertised to children, which it said overturned previous advice without “good reason”.

The protein cap is part of the UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) nutrient profiling model which differentiates foods on the basis of their nutrient composition to help regulators apply TV advertising controls to improve the balance of foods being advertised to children.

The protein cap prevents foods containing high levels of fat, salt or sugar, being classed as 'healthier' because of their protein content. Lifting the cap would result in additional products, mainly breakfast cereals and some crisps, being allowed to be advertised on television to children.

The FSA asked an independent review panel to look at this nutrient profiling model and it concluded last year that there were a number of reasons why the cap should be removed, as it was not convinced of the scientific rationale for retaining it.

The panel felt the cap “may no longer be serving its intended purpose and that its inclusion may be hampering potential reformulation activities”.

Now the final FSA Board paper, which took into account other opinions as well as the review panel’s recommendations, has been published and it recommends keeping the cap because “the wider public health arguments for maintaining the status quo are more persuasive”.

The FSA Board is to agree the advice it gives to ministers regarding this issue on Wednesday.

However, Julian Hunt, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director of communications, Hunt said that the paper “provides no good reasons​” to support the overturning of the independent panel’s advice and we urge FSA Board members to reject this recommendation”.

He said: “We are baffled by this recommendation from Food Standards Agency officials to the Board.

“The so-called ‘protein cap’ was first introduced into the profiling model in 2005 without adequate consultation. The independent panel concluded that this protein cap should be removed – partly to encourage industry to continue its work to change the recipes of popular food and drink products.

“But officials are now recommending that this independent advice is ignored – again without any proper consultation among stakeholders or apparent justification in the light of the evidence.”

He added that this was “apparently because of concerns that products such as organic rice cakes, breadsticks and fruity muesli will now ‘pass’ the profiling model”​.

FSA response

An FSA spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com that on balance, the agency is going with the advice of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which expressed reservations about the public health implications of reclassifying some foods from ‘less healthy’ to ‘healthier’.

The spokeswoman said: “Agreed there is a scientific justification for removing the protein cap but the wider public health arguments to maintain the status quo are more persuasive.

“Although the impact of removing the protein cap would be small, the FSA is concerned that it would allow more sugary breakfast cereals to be advertised during children’s TV programmes.”

Other than the protein cap, there was general agreement that the NP model, which uses a scoring system that allocates points on the basis of a products nutrient content per 100g, is fit for its intended purpose.

Reader comments

Isn't it concerning that FSA is now regularly turning over the advice of independent review panels from which it has requested input on decisions relating to what we eat, often because of unspecified and undefined "public health" or "public perception" issues. A proper rationale should be provided for this decision.

Ailbhe Fallon, Managing director, Fallon-Currie

Related topics: Reformulation, Policy

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