Food industry ‘got away with murder’ on UPF, claims Lords chair

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The food industry 'got away with murder' on ultra-processed foods, according to Baroness Joan Walmsley. Image: Getty, Wildpixel
The food industry 'got away with murder' on ultra-processed foods, according to Baroness Joan Walmsley. Image: Getty, Wildpixel
Food and drink manufacturers could be staring down the barrel of stricter regulations, after Lords enquiry chair claimed the industry has ‘got away with murder’ on ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

Baroness Joan Walmsley, chair of the House of Lords inquiry into diet and obesity, levelled criticism at the food and drink industry for failing to prevent obesity and allowing unhealthy foods to be marketed to children.

“We’ve taken 20 lots of oral evidence – each one with a panel of about three people – and we’ve had about 150 pieces of written evidence,”​ Walmsley told the Food Foundation​ podcast. “It’s pretty clear from the statistics that obesity has been growing, particularly worryingly amongst children and indeed infants and very young people.

“We have seen that the food industry has really been allowed to get away with murder. There have been voluntary targets to improve the healthiness of food on offer, but they haven’t really achieved anything.”

She claimed that consumers were being bombarded with advertising for food high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS), which had sparked calls for tougher legislation on food and drink producers.

Understanding online

While legislation has already gone through the House of Lords and the House of Commons to limit the advertising of HFSS foods on TV, the lack of understanding of online and its affect on people’s eating habits called into question its effectiveness.

“Now, it’s really not clear yet what online means, but it’s growing in importance given the way people are changing their eating patterns and ordering food online to be delivered one way of another,”​ Walmsley explained.

“So, we’re going to look very carefully at the legislation to make sure that when it does come in that the regulations actually cover all this bombardment on social media, that young people are getting to eat the wrong things.”

Walmsley drew further attention marketing and advertising of foods for infants and very young children, an area in regulation was very weak and poor.

“It really is disgraceful that foods that are very high in sugar are being marketed with labelling that is very child enticing – let's put it that way rather than child friendly,”​ she added.

Committee investigation

Commenting on the progress of the Lords committee’s investigation into HFSS foods, Walmsley bemoaned the food industry’s reluctance to participate in the debate. While there had been some written evidence submitted, only two or three of the big manufacturers were prepared to give evidence and answer questions.

“I think one of the main problems is that obesity strategies since 1992 have really involved, I think it's 16 different strategies and almost 800 different policies, but they're mainly dependent on people taking responsibility themselves,”​ she concluded.

“The problem is if they're surrounded by an obesogenic environment and they're short of cash, it's not very easy for them to resist the advertising, to get to places where healthy food is sold and to make the right choices.

“We know that people who are time poor – when they've not got time to cook from fresh, so they are reliant on ready prepared meals and that means that the quality, the nutritional quality of those ready-made meals is really, really important and we've got to get manufacturers and retailers to improve that.”

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