Sat fat and sugar guidance draws health and legal comment

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

The UK Food Standards Agency’s recommendations to reduce portion sizes of treat foods and soft drinks and cut sugar and saturated fat levels will help tackle obesity and health problems, says the BHF; but a top food lawyer points out that there is no obligation for industry to comply.

In response to the unveiling of the new recommendations, covered by FoodNavigator.com yesterday (article available here​), Betty McBride, Policy & Communications Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“It’s easy to tuck into treats such as biscuits, cakes and sugary drinks without realising just how packed full of calories, fats, salts and sugars they are. “Reducing portion sizes and the amount of saturated fat in foods will help to improve the nation’s diet and help tackle obesity and heart disease.”

But she added that there is a need for joined up logic with new food and nutrition labelling requirements.

“If this is to be successful, it needs to be accompanied by a single front of pack food labelling scheme that combines traffic light colours, GDAs and the words high, medium and low to help busy shoppers understand at a glance what’s in the food they’re buying.”

The FSA is already recommending to health ministers that such a labelling system be adopted as the UK’s preferred.

No legal force

While the food industry is engaged in reformulation programmes food and beverage products that are heavy on nutrients that should be consumed with moderation, this forms part of an effort to self-regulate.

Owen Warnock, partner and food law expert at international law firm Eversheds, pointed out that the new recommendations do not make action obligatory.

“The FSA's recommendations are just that: recommendations. They have no legal force, and simply follow the pattern established by the FSA in its successful campaign to work with food manufacturers to lower the level of salt in foods,”​ he said.

“Neither the FSA nor the UK government can introduce binding rules on the size of drinks cans or the satfat content of foods – to do so would breach the European Union principles of free trade in a single market. The EU will only allow countries to adopt regulations on such issues when an overwhelming case based on health and safety can be made out, and although there may be a case here relating to consumer health, the argument would be that it can be tackled by education rather than regulation.”

The FSA’s recommendations are available at http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/satfatrecommendations

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