Manufacturers face shaming over sugar targets

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

The 20% sugar reduction target to cut obesity is unlikely to be met
The 20% sugar reduction target to cut obesity is unlikely to be met

Related tags Childhood obesity Nutrition Industry

Food and drink manufacturers that do not meet the government’s 20% sugar reduction target in products by 2020 could be named and shamed, a leading figure at the Department of Health (DH) has suggested.

Conversations with industry over the reformulation target had been “constructive”,​ but transparency was needed to distinguish “the guys that are doing it”​ and “the guys that are not”, ​Emma Reed, deputy director at the DH childhood obesity branch claimed.

Reed remained “very optimistic” ​that the 20% target could be reached, she told delegates at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum keynote seminar on implementing the childhood obesity plan, at the end of January.

However, at the same seminar, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) corporate affairs director Tim Rycroft said that while some companies – and possibly even some sectors – would meet the target, overall, the food and drink industry would not.

Progress in cutting sugar

Both sides were in agreement that manufacturers had made a considerable deal of progress in cutting sugar. Reed said: “Industry has been doing fantastically well on reformulation, but that doesn’t apply to all providers and manufacturers of food.

By setting the target baseline at 2015, we are able to take account of those firms at the vanguard​ [of reformulation], so we’re not double-punishing them.

“But what we want is everybody else to get on-board – and by being transparent about it, we can say that these are the guys that are doing it, and these are the guys that are not.”

Reed recognised that the 20% target was “challenging”,​ but added “it was meant to be challenging, because if it wasn’t, we would have set it too low”.

20% target was arbitrarily set

Rycroft at the FDF acknowledged that industry had a role to play in reducing childhood obesity, but reminded delegates that the 20% target was arbitrarily set before a series of meetings was held between the nine designated food industry sectors, the DH, and Public Health England.

“There may have been no other way to set the target, but the fact remains that PHE had already declared an overall target before understanding what the particular challenges for each sector would be,”​ he explained.

“It’s important to note that reformulation won’t be linear – it will be done in chunks. Companies will invest money in a set of reformulations, and they will only do that every three to five years, because it is a big, costly exercise for them.

“So, we won’t see a nice gradual reduction – we’ll see spikes. But these are not one-off interventions, this is about industry being on an escalator heading in the same direction. And I think that’s very good news.”

Meanwhile, Nestlé UK and Ireland plans to cut the sugar in its confectionery by 10%​, in line with Public Health England’s sugar reduction targets.

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