Investors and industry bodies have slammed the Government for its approach to tackling issues surrounding unhealthy food in the UK.
Earlier this month (July 2023), representatives from more than 25 investment firms called on food companies to report on how much junk food they sell, while the Soil Association laid into a Government review into the health impacts of ultra-processed foods.
Investors demand action on unhealthy food
In a letter to The Times, investors questioned the Government’s U-turn on a mandatory reporting policy which would have required companies to reveal the percentage of annual sales that were generated by unhealthy foods.
The letter, signed by firms including Rathbone Greenbank Investments and Legal & General, said that such a measure needed to be put into law as “voluntary frameworks have consistently failed to work”.
“Many of the problems facing the food industry are too wide-ranging and complex for individual companies to effectively address,” the letter added.
“A lack of consistent data makes it hard for investors to evaluate a company’s impact on the environment and health and to measure the risk associated with these exposures.”
Sarah Buszard, responsible investor lead at The Food Foundation, echoed the letter and urged the Government to implement a requirement for reporting unhealthy food sales.
"This is a real shame given the history of failed voluntary industry initiatives aiming to improve dietary health,” Buszard said.
“We know that investors, as well as several large food and beverage companies, are supportive of well-designed regulation, because it levels the playing field for businesses and allows investors to better direct their funds towards companies that are more resilient in the longer-term.”
Soil Association disturbed by ultra-processed food review
Meanwhile, the Soil Association said that a Government review into the health impacts of ultra-processed food was “skewed” by ties to the industry.
The review was initially welcomed by the association but following a new position statement from the Government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) it has expressed its disappointment in the lack of action.
“It is concerning that the committee has failed to acknowledge the need for precaution, given the rapid trend towards these foods dominating British children’s diets,” said Soil Association head of food policy Rob Percival.
“SACN is oddly silent on case for re-balancing the national diet and addressing the corporate capture of children’s food. We are disturbed that the committee’s conclusions may have been skewed by industry ties, conflicted financial interests and a narrow framing of the science.”
Percival added that, on average, children in the UK eat a diet made up from 60% ultra-processed food, which has led to rapid rises in obesity.
“The Government’s dietary guidelines recommend that adults and children should base their diets around minimally processed plant foods, such as vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and pulses,” Percival said.
“Most people in the UK are failing to eat such a diet, precisely because these foods have been displaced by ultra-processed products.”
In other news, research by the British Nutrition Foundation found that 70% of UK adults do not understand the term ultra-processed.