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Restaurants: Calorie Labelling

Volume 798: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of Diabetes UK’s Food Upfront campaign and petition; and how many businesses they estimate will be affected by the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling in restaurants.

My Lords, we welcome the ongoing commitment of Diabetes UK, including the Food Upfront campaign, which, together with its encouraging support for our proposals, makes a valuable contribution to improving the nation’s diets. The impact assessment published alongside our consultation last year estimates the number of businesses that will be affected under the various policy options considered. An updated impact assessment will be published when the Government publish the outcome of the consultation later this year.

I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. It is a shame that the consultation, which ended in December, has yet to be published. Diabetes UK tells us that three out of four people want to see calorie information on restaurant, café and takeaway menus, and that nine out of 10 say that clearer food labelling will help them make healthier food choices. Diabetes UK is worried that the Government intend to limit compulsory calorie labelling to companies with 250 employees. If that is the case—I would like to know whether it is—only 520 businesses would be included out of the 168,000 eligible, rendering this meaningless. What are the Government doing in this regard and when will we see the results of the consultation?

I thank the noble Baroness for her important question. She will know that we remain committed to delivering the actions we set out in chapter 2 of the childhood obesity plan, which included the consultation on calorie labelling in the out-of-home sector. We will publish it shortly. She will also know that our ability to introduce changes to the labelling system depends on EU legislation. We are committed to exploring whatever additional opportunities we can to have food labelling in the UK display world-leading, simple nutritional information, as well as information on origin and welfare standards. We will bring that forward as soon as possible.

My Lords, I was alarmed to read the Public Health England report about unacceptably high levels of sugar in baby foods, even some labelled as being healthy. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that such products give parents the information they need to make healthy choices for their children?

I know the noble Baroness has raised issues around baby food on several occasions. The reformulation programme taking place under the obesity plan takes account of sugar in a number of different products. So far, I do not think baby food has been one of these, but the Secretary of State has commissioned the CMO to urgently review what can be done to help the Government meet their ambition of halving childhood obesity by 2030. The report is due for publication by September and I will pass on the noble Baroness’s comments.

Does my noble friend agree that two other policies on obesity are not adequately focused on? The first is helping parents to teach self-control and good eating habits. The second is increasing physical activity—for example, through the daily mile and school sports. I was horrified to learn from the Diabetes UK briefing that only 18% of children in the UK reach the recommended target for physical activity so vital to lifetime health.

I thank my noble friend for her question; she is absolutely right that increasing physical activity is a key part of the childhood obesity plan. That is exactly why the revenue from the soft drinks industry levy is being invested in improving childhood health and well-being in this way, including doubling the primary PE and sport premium to £320 million a year. This has included a commitment to every school in the country including the daily mile, or something similar. We are particularly pleased about that, but we also believe that work needs to be done in supporting parents, and PHE is working on that.

My Lords, parents carry some responsibility. What disturbs me—I would like to know whether the Minister agrees—is that I often see parents with young children who have a scooter. The child will stand on the scooter and the parent pushes the child all the way to school, so the child gets no exercise whatever. It seems to defeat the whole purpose. Are the Government doing anything to remedy this by means of advertising?

The noble Lord has asked a most innovative question, to which I do not have an immediate answer in my notes. I hazard a guess that scooters offer some balance benefits, but I shall get back to him on that.

Are the Government losing their grip on this issue? We were promised the Public Health England sugar reduction data in April, when it did not appear, and then “in late summer 2019”. Can the Minister tell us how late summer will be this year?

Based on the weather, I cannot really answer that, but I absolutely reject the premise that the Government are losing their grip on this issue. We have seen some real successes since the publication of the 2016 plan. The soft drinks levy has resulted in the equivalent of 45 million kilograms of sugar being taken out of soft drinks, which is a genuine success. Some products in the sugar reduction programme have exceeded their first-year targets: a 6% reduction in sugar in yoghurts has been achieved. As I mentioned, significant investments are being made in schools to promote physical activity and healthy eating. We accept, however, given the obesity crisis, that much more needs to be done and the noble Baroness will be glad to hear that the Secretary of State has, as I said, commissioned the CMO to urgently review and drive this agenda forward, which is exactly what we intend to do.

My Lords, I urge the Government to follow up on the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about how many of these places are small companies. When I ran the London Food Board, we did research in Tower Hamlets and I found one single takeaway where a portion of chips—a large one, admittedly—was 1,800 calories. That is completely insane, and parents and children do not know about it. I would be grateful to hear the Government’s view on how we might publicise that fact.

I thank the noble Baroness for her point. As I said, we remain committed to exploring what additional opportunities leaving the EU presents for food labelling. At the moment, we have some world-leading simple nutritional information, but we want to work with the devolved nations and Administrations to explore the potential for common approaches. Obviously, the consultation on mandated calorie labelling has received a high level of interest—there were over 1,000 responses—and that is partly why we are in the process of going through that at the moment.