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Public Health Responsibility Deal

Volume 751: debated on Tuesday 14 January 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in persuading further fast food chains to sign up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal pledge on calorie reduction.

We are working hard to persuade other fast food chains to join the wide range of food businesses which have already signed up to the public health responsibility deal calorie reduction pledge and to sign up to other food network pledges. Eleven fast food partners are signatories of the responsibility deal and are taking action in a range of areas including calorie reduction. These partners cover most of the food sold in the fast food sector.

I think the Minister will agree that these public health responsibility deal pledges are very useful. Given the dangers of excessive sugar in our diets, will the Minister consider adding a specific sugar-reduction pledge to the current list—with specific targets, as is already the case for salt—and will he help reduce sugar consumption by following the latest advice of Dr Susan Jebb, chair of the department’s public health responsibility deal food network, and removing fruit juice from the five-a-day recommendations?

My Lords, I shall take my noble friend’s final question back with me. We will certainly look at it. However, I stress that our current emphasis is on overall calorie reduction, of which sugar can form a part. The scope for a reformulation to reduce sugar levels varies widely depending on the food and a reduction in sugar levels does not always mean that the overall calorie content is reduced—for example, when sugar is replaced by starch or other ingredients. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition—SACN—is currently undertaking a review of carbo- hydrates and is looking at sugar as part of that. Its report will inform our future thinking.

Is the Minister aware that one supermarket chain has announced today that it is going to remove all sweets from its checkout tills? Would it not be a good idea for the noble Earl to invite other supermarket chains to do exactly the same?

My Lords, we are talking to the supermarket chains about those very matters, and I welcome the action that has been taken. The noble Lord may like to know that, as part of the responsibility deal calorie reduction pledge, Coca-Cola has reduced calories in some of its soft-drink brands by at least 30%, Mars has reduced its single chocolate portions to no more than 250 calories and Tesco has reduced by more than 1 billion the number of calories sold in its own-brand soft drinks.

My Lords, will the Minister help the House by publishing a list of meetings which Ministers, special advisers and senior civil servants have had with fast food companies in the past year?

Does the Minister approve of the letter, which will shortly be sent to all Members of this House and of another place, asking them to measure their waist and to ensure that it is less than half their height? That would apply to quite a few Members opposite, who are clearly eating too much of the gross national product.

My Lords, we should welcome any measure that encourages us all to improve our diet, to reduce physical inactivity and to be aware of what we need to do to keep our weight under control. I do welcome that letter.

My Lords, I hope that the noble Earl will encourage his own noble colleagues to look at themselves in the mirror in the light of that unwarranted attack on my own Benches. Perhaps I can just refer the noble Earl to the report of the National Obesity Forum yesterday, which suggested that, on one of the worst-case scenarios, more than half of the population of this country will be obese by 2050. Does he not think that the volunteer approach may no longer be appropriate? Do the Government not have to take a greater lead on this?

My Lords, there are certainly no grounds for complacency on obesity levels throughout the nation. However, the current data do not support the claim by the National Obesity Forum. In 2007, the Foresight team projected that, based on data from 1993-2004, more than half the population could be obese by 2050 if no action is taken. An analysis based on recent data suggests a flatter trend than the one projected by the Foresight team. I do not agree that we should belittle the responsibility deal. It has many worthwhile achievements to its credit and they are being added to month by month.

Although appreciating this scurrilous attack on rotundity, does the noble Earl recollect the immortal words of Shakespeare in “Julius Caesar”:

“Let me have men about me that are fat; … Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look”.

My Lords, do the Government not accept that people ought to know that if they stuff themselves silly with high-calorie rubbish foods they will get fat? It is their responsibility. All the forums and other nonsense are merely trying to divorce people from the consequences of their own stupid actions.

My noble friend is absolutely right to place his finger on a central point that, in the end, it is up to individuals to take responsibility for their own state of health.

My Lords, if individuals are required to take responsibility but they do not know what they are consuming because the manufacturers or producers do not let them know, or indeed the Government are complicit in not pressing those manufacturers to let people know what they are consuming, should there not be a responsibility on the Government? For example, no one knows the calories in alcohol. There has been no change since this responsibility deal was introduced and there is no change in prospect.

My Lords, under the responsibility deal, 92 producers and retailers have committed to having 80% of bottles and cans in the UK displaying unit and health information and a pregnancy warning by the end of last year. That is a worthwhile step forward. As regards the calorie labelling of alcoholic drinks, that, as the noble Lord will know, is an EU competence. It is subject to discussion at this time, but most large retailers include the calorie content of alcohol products on their websites, and that information is also available elsewhere.