Industry sluggishness forces Scotland’s hand in slapping down obesity

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/
©iStock/
The food and drink industry’s lack of action in addressing unhealthy food advertising and promotion in Scotland has forced the government to take control with its new diet and obesity consultation.

The government is clamping down on price promotions that include multi-buy; three-for-two and temporary price offers, after an underwhelming industry response regarding voluntary action to support healthier diets.  

“Despite constructive engagement with the food and drink industry, this approach has not delivered sufficient commitment to action, particularly in relation to promotions,”​ the consultation said.

“We therefore believe that more specific targeted action is required to improve the balance of promotional activity towards healthier options.”

David Thomson, CEO of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland, responded claiming that “Restricting promotions will hit the poorest shoppers hardest – at a time when all customers are seeing increases to the cost of their weekly shopping basket”.

“The regulation of promotions within retail premises is a hugely complicated area and could create unfair disadvantage to different types of products.

“We would urge Scottish government to consult widely and to gather evidence on the financial, practical and legal implications for businesses and consumers before seeking to change the law.”

Advertising to kids

While the government welcomed recent measures set out by Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to limit junk food and drink advertising aimed at children, it also said the measures did not go far enough.

The Scottish government said it would apply pressure on the UK government to ban the broadcast advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar before the 9 pm watershed, requesting these powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament if it did not act.

It also committed to monitoring and reviewing the implementation and impact, in 2018, of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) code on non-broadcast advertising of products high in fat, salt and sugar.

“If we assess this is not sufficient, we will take any necessary steps to embed good practice. We will also continue to press the CAP to adopt the revised nutrient profile model once it is available,”​ the consultation warned.

Thomson added his support to the Committee of Advertising Practice's new rules introduced earlier in the year.

"We fully support the Committee of Advertising Practice's new rules introduced earlier in the year which put an end to the advertising of food and drink high in fat, sugar or salt in media targeted at children, including online,”​ he said.

“UK food and drink companies have a high compliance rate with advertising rules but further controls on advertising in what is already a strictly regulated marketplace would be a huge misfire.”

Reformulation help for SMEs

In launching the €47.7m (£42m) five-year consultation, Scotland’s public health minister Aileen Campbell also announced proposals supporting small and medium sized food manufacturers to reformulate and develop healthier products.

“We need commitment and action from everyone across all sectors and at all levels including government, citizens, the public sector and businesses right across the country,” ​said Campbell.

“As with our ground-breaking strategies on alcohol and tobacco, this is the start of a progressive plan of action, learning from our experience in Scotland and further afield, that will make a real, lasting difference to the country’s health.

As part of the strategy, the Scottish government, Food Standards Scotland and NHS Health Scotland will produce Scotland’s first sector specific strategy for ‘out of home’ providers by summer 2018.

The out of home sector refers to the food and drink purchased and consumed outside the home. Evidence suggests that, overall, the food and drink purchased here is skewed towards less healthy options.

Large and small businesses across the public, private and voluntary sectors will be given advice and support on how to improve on calorie labelling, portion size and calorie cap options as well as cooking methods and reformulation.

Thomson added: “Food and drink manufacturers have a strong record of voluntarily reformulating products for health.”

“We welcome the Scottish Government's €227,169 (£200,000) commitment to help small and medium-sized enterprises reformulate their products – support which FDF Scotland and our partners have been calling for.”

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