At the Sugar Summit conference organised by Smooth Events at the Royal Society in London, Berger told delegates: “It would not be right or fair to impose taxes on fatty or sugary foods.”
The Labour Party wanted to avoid ‘nanny state’ labels slapped on the last Labour government, she explained. As a result, it did not want to adopt a heavy-handed approach to consumers.
“The new approach will be one of partnership and empowerment,” said Berger. “Labour is clear the government has no role in making informed decisions for people. However, the government does have a role to empower people to make informed decisions.”
That said, Labour would not rule out introducing laws to drive the development of healthier foods, she said. “We are actively considering regulations to limit the amount of fat, sugar and salt in foods targeted at children.”
And she said Labour would seek to crack down on aggressive marketing of fatty, sugary and salty foods to children, including the use of online games in that process. “We are putting children’s health at the heart of our new position on public health.
“The government has a responsibility to intervene to safeguard and protect children,” she said, arguing that whereas adults were able to make properly informed decisions, children were not.
Her remarks echoed comments made at the British Soft Drinks Association’s annual conference on May 7, when she said Labour was considering legislation targeting food content and marketing to children.
In other ways, Labour would generally seek to follow Public Health England’s response to the findings of the Scientific Advisory Committee for Nutrition’s draft Carbohydrates and Health report issued last month, said Berger.
Encourage healthier diets
Tools such as the government’s five-a-day message on fruit and vegetable consumption and the Department of Health’s Change for Life campaign were good ways to encourage healthier diets, she said.
In addition, Berger called for more consistent public sector food standards across institutions such as schools and hospitals and “transparent messaging on the content of foods” sold in supermarkets.
She denied the Public Health Responsibility Deal was “a dead duck in the water”, as Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine argued at the Sugar Summit.
It had provided food and drink manufacturers with common targets for salt, fat and sugar reduction and encouraged accountability, she said.
As a result, the food industry had been inspired to achieve significant initiatives. These included Tesco’s pledge to remove sweets from till points from its smaller stores by 2015 as one example.