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Food: Fast Food

Volume 744: debated on Thursday 21 March 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the effectiveness of the Responsibility Deal for Calorie Reduction in achieving significant product reformulation in food sold by fast food operators.

My Lords, the responsibility deal’s calorie-reduction pledge challenges businesses, including fast food companies, to take action to help people eat fewer calories. This includes product reformulation. Responsibility deal partners report annually on the progress that they have made against their pledges. Annual updates for 2012-13 will be published on the responsibility deal website in summer 2013.

My Lords, the plain fact is that not a single fast food operator has signed up to the calorie-reduction pledge. I asked McDonald’s why and it said that it was because of concerns about the lack of clarity and vagueness in some of the Government’s definitions. If the calorie-reduction pledge does not work with fast food operators, how else can we make certain that they reduce calories in the 5.5 billion meals they serve every year in the UK?

In fact, my Lords, 32 businesses have signed up to the pledge to help people consume fewer calories, which is a responsibility deal priority. They include seven of our major retailers and some of the nation’s biggest food manufacturers, as well as Subway, which is a fast food company—so we do have one. It is a deliberately wide-ranging pledge, allowing companies and their customers to reduce calories through a broad range of actions. I say to my noble friend, however, that we will have fast food companies very much in our sights over the coming months.

My Lords, helping people to make informed choices on what they eat is really important. However, we have learnt in recent times that what is on the label is not always what is inside. I have stated previously that so-called healthy products such as low-fat yoghurts and cereals are jam-packed with sugar, which has huge implications for the threat of diabetes. Will the Minister consider statutory food labelling which is easy to understand?

My Lords, we certainly have not ruled out regulation in this area, but we can be encouraged by the progress that we have made to date through the responsibility deal in terms of calorie labelling. Some 47 businesses signed up to labelling calories at the end of 2012, while 5,000 fast food and takeaway outlets and around 9,000 high street outlets, including pubs, restaurants and coffee shops, will display calories.