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Labour government would regulate food industry

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By Mike Stones+

20-Jan-2014
Last updated the 20-Jan-2014 at 15:02 GMT

Tough new rules regulating food manufacturers’ use of fat, sugar and salt – initially in children’s food – will be introduced if Labour wins the next general election.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham pledged to introduce the new rules on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme on Friday January 17. “There has to be a change in food policy in this country. It is very much on my agenda to change that, as the next health secretary,” he said.

The last Labour government should have been “tougher” in regulating the food and drink industry and voluntary measures to curb sugar, fat and salt in foods had not worked, he added. The Public Health Responsibility Deal was introduced to encourage food and drink manufacturers to help improve the nation’s diet on a voluntary basis.

Successive government health ministers have claimed that voluntary, not mandatory, controls were effective in improving the nation’s diet.

‘Voluntary approach is not working’

But Burnham said: “The voluntary approach is not working. There is a case for maximum levels of fat, sugar and salt in children’s food because the state has a different responsibility to children [than adults]. So, I would start with food marketed directly at children.”

Burnham stressed that he did not want to ban such foods completely – despite, he said, being known as “the Frosty killer”. Instead, he suggested bringing the levels of fat, sugar and salt down to what he deemed more acceptable levels.

Consumers were unaware of the precise constituents of formulated food products, he added.

Christine Tacon, the groceries code adjudicator, told the audience that food manufacturers had a propensity to put a disproportionately large amount of cheap ingredients – such as sugar, water and flour – in their products. The results was that people eat more of them that they realised.

Tacon said the prospect of regulation should be used to persuade food and drink manufacturers to change their formulations more quickly than they had in the past. “There is the voluntary initiative,” she said. “I’d say you have got to do it more quickly. Just like my job of adjudicator – it’s the threat of what you will do that moves things on.”

‘The threat of what you will do that moves things on”

Andrew Mitchell, former government chief whip, and Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield, preferred to avoid statutory controls on food ingredients. “I tend towards voluntary initiatives and education,” he told the programme.

Mitchell was making one of his first media appearances since becoming involved in the so-called Plebgate scandal.

The speakers were responding to a question from audience member, dentist Joyce Glandford, who worried about “the onslaught of sugar on children’s teeth”.

Earlier this month, food and drink industry leaders told FoodManufacture.co.uk they expected politicians to focus on the sector this year, in advance of the 2015 general election.

Meanwhile, the National Obesity Forum (NOF) told a BBC Radio 4 programme last week that its controversial report The State of the Nation’s Waistline was based on anecdotal rather than scientific research. The NOF had also exaggerated the scale of Britain’s obesity crisis, its spokesman admitted.

3 comments (Comments are now closed)

Restricting fat not an evidence-based Policy

Dear Labour Party and shadow health secretary Andy Burnham,

You have indicated that you would like to persuade food manufacturers to reduce sugar, salt and fat levels in foods. As a nutriton professional of 20 years, I have no problem with reducing intakes of the first two. But in the case of fat, this is not an evidence-based initiative.

The world's most published nutrition expert (and head of the Harvard School of Public Health) analysed the purported relationship between fat intake and obesity over a decade ago. The evidence was found to be not only wanting but the scientist has since confirmed what seems to be an inverse relationship between percentage dietary fat intake and obesity when carbohydrates replace fats in the diet. See the research quoted below.

Am J Med. 2002 Dec 30;113 Suppl 9B:47S-59S.
Dietary fat is not a major determinant of body fat.
Willett WC, Leibel RL.

Abstract
The percentage of energy from fat in diets has been thought to be an important determinant of body fat, and several mechanisms have been proposed. Comparisons of diets and the prevalence of obesity between affluent and poor countries have been used to support this relationship, but these contrasts are seriously confounded by differences in physical activity and food availability. Within areas of similar economic development, regional intake of fat and prevalence of obesity have not been positively correlated. Randomized trials are the preferable method to evaluate the effect of dietary fat on adiposity and are feasible because the number of subjects needed is not large. In short-term trials, a modest reduction in body weight is typically seen in individuals randomized to diets with a lower percentage of calories from fat. However, compensatory mechanisms appear to operate, because in randomized trials lasting >or=1 year, fat consumption within the range of 18% to 40% of energy appears to have little if any effect on body fatness. The weighted mean difference was -0.25 kg overall and +1.8 kg (i.e., less weight loss on the low-fat diets) for trials with a control group that received a comparable intensity intervention. Moreover, within the United States, a substantial decline in the percentage of energy from fat during the last 2 decades has corresponded with a massive increase in the prevalence of obesity. Diets high in fat do not appear to be the primary cause of the high prevalence of excess body fat in our society, and reductions in fat will not be a solution.

The alleged positive correlation between dietary fat (and saturated fat) and heart and vascular disease (by far the biggest preventable cause of death) has undergone the same scrutiny and again, research has been found to be not only unsupportive but again, replacement of fat with carbohydrates (especially the kind of carbohydrates that most people choose to eat) seems to have negative and not positive effects on morbidity, as below.

The current research supports reduction in sugar and salt but also reduction in high glycaemic (high GI) carbohydrates, which essentially have the same deleterious effects as sugar once they enter the gut. So, it seems to be the biscuits, white bread, pastry, crisps and other easily-digested, highly-processed, low-fibre starches, which are primarily responsible for the obesity epidemic, that Western societies are currently experiencing.

Please have due regard for the above facts when contemplating any dietary health policies, if your desired outcome is a reduction in obesity and morbidity in the British population.

Best regards

Mark Gilbert B.Sc. (Nutrition), CISSN

Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Apr;93(4):684-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.004622. Epub 2011 Jan 26.
The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010?
Astrup A, Dyerberg J, Elwood P, Hermansen K, Hu FB, Jakobsen MU, Kok FJ, Krauss RM, Lecerf JM, LeGrand P, Nestel P, Risérus U, Sanders T, Sinclair A,Stender S, Tholstrup T, Willett WC.
Abstract
Current dietary recommendations advise reducing the intake of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) to reduce coronary heart disease (CHD) risk, but recent findings question the role of SFAs. This expert panel reviewed the evidence and reached the following conclusions: the evidence from epidemiologic, clinical, and mechanistic studies is consistent in finding that the risk of CHD is reduced when SFAs are replaced with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). In populations who consume a Western diet, the replacement of 1% of energy from SFAs with PUFAs lowers LDL cholesterol and is likely to produce a reduction in CHD incidence of ≥2-3%. No clear benefit of substituting carbohydrates for SFAs has been shown, although there might be a benefit if the carbohydrate is unrefined and has a low glycemic index. Insufficient evidence exists to judge the effect on CHD risk of replacing SFAs with MUFAs. No clear association between SFA intake relative to refined carbohydrates and the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes has been shown. The effect of diet on a single biomarker is insufficient evidence to assess CHD risk. The combination of multiple biomarkers and the use of clinical endpoints could help substantiate the effects on CHD. Furthermore, the effect of particular foods on CHD cannot be predicted solely by their content of total SFAs because individual SFAs may have different cardiovascular effects and major SFA food sources contain other constituents that could influence CHD risk. Research is needed to clarify the role of SFAs compared with specific forms of carbohydrates in CHD risk and to compare specific foods with appropriate alternatives.

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Posted by Mark Gilbert
05 February 2014 | 13h54

RE: Reality?

The child will eat double? Who allows that child to eat double in order to feed their sugar/fat desires? Presumably the same person who lets their child eat really unhealthy food in the first place. The responsibility doesn't begin and end with parents but they have to take some responsibility. This would be much easier with better regulation which is essential.

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Posted by Dave Watson
25 January 2014 | 11h08

Reality?

If you halve the sugar and fat, the child will eat twice as much to get the same satisfaction. Then all you have done is to cost its mother double. Please get real.

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Posted by Bob Salmon
21 January 2014 | 23h49

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