The topic of healthy eating habits has seen an increase across the EU and in the UK in calls for amendments to existing food standards and labelling legislation.
The latest round follows hard on the heels of the Requirements for School Food Regulations 2014. Recently, the British Heart Foundation has called for a ban on TV advertisements of 'Junk' food from being broadcast before the 9pm watershed. There have also been calls to make clearer the level of processed 'added sugars' in breakfast cereals and other products.
The idea of introducing measures to promote healthier eating habits has also seen a number of General Election pledges, including the Labour party's recent proposals to introduce a cap on the levels of fat, salt and sugar in foods marketed to children. However, any progress on such proposals is likely to be slow, and in all likelihood will be slowed further by the General Election in May.
One such example of this is the slow progress of the Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill which, although presented to Parliament in July 2014, is not due to have its second reading in Parliament until 27 February this year.
Notwithstanding the slow progress, the Bill seeks to introduce proposals which will:
- tackle how sugar content in foods is labelled and advertised;
- introduce targets for the consumption of sugar on a national level; and
- require the provision of general advice on sugar content by food category.
Under the proposals, targets for the total annual consumption of sugar would be published by the Secretary of State (having first taken advice from the Food Standards Agency). The Secretary of State would also be required to submit an annual report to Parliament on the progress towards achieving the targets set.
The Bill will introduce an additional requirement to existing food labelling legislation, which will require the sugar content in a product (represented in teaspoon units) to be clearly labelled on its packaging. The proposals would also mean any advert or promotional material must declare the sugar content of the product being promoted and would prohibit the use of "healthy" or "low fat" language where the sugar content in a given food is over 20%.
The Bill, election pledges and other campaigns will no doubt continue to be a hot topic moving toward the General Election in May. What remains to be seen is whether these pledges will lose momentum as election fever increases, or indeed whether the current Bill will sink without trace only to be resurrected in a new form post the Election.