Blog: Dean BestLabour manifesto has sugar in its sights

Dean Best | 13 April 2015

The UK Labour Party today (13 April) issued its manifesto for the country's upcoming general election - and has pledged to take aim at sugar.

In the manifesto, Labour said it would "take tough action" to "support parents in protecting their children from commercial pressures and the harm caused by alcohol, sugar and tobacco".

The party has pledged to "tackle the marketing of unhealthy food to children". To do that, Labour's policies in government would include "setting limits on the amount of sugar, fat and salt in food marketed substantially to children in major product groups". It pinpointed cereals, crisps and soft drinks.

The manifesto also included plans to study changes to the guidelines governing the TV advertising of products high in sugar, fat and salt.

"We will ask the Committee on Advertising Practice and the Advertising Standards Agency to report on how this can be more effectively done, including the option of lowering the required proportion of children in the audience for a programme to be considered 'of particular appeal to children'," the manifesto read.

Labour's pledges on public health also included reinstating the "goal of all children doing a minimum two hours of physical education a week" as part of moves to "promote physical activity at the centre of public health policy". It insisted its position wwas "borne out [of] the desire to avoid a ‘nannystate’ approach, whilst recognising the failure of the Tory-led Government to show the strong leadership and ambition needed to match the scale of the public health challenge we are facing".

The party, led by Ed Miliband, took aim at a specific policy of the current government. "This
government has failed to stand up to vested interests and their decision to rely solely on industry self-regulation and voluntary initiatives (the Responsibility Deal) is widely seen to have been ineffective."

With under a month to go, the election is, by the reckoning of many pollsters, too close to call. Manufacturers doing business in - or thinking of expanding into - the UK need to be aware of the thinking of all the main parties' on issues like obesity and marketing. For obvious reasons, the pledges made today by the UK's official opposition, however, will be of particular interest.

Referring to the heightened scrutiny on sugar in recent months, a spokesperson for the Food and Drink Federation said the UK industry body was "concerned at the effectiveness of targeting specific products, when tackling the UK’s complex obesity challenge requires a whole lifestyle approach".

However, the spokesperson did welcome Labour's comments on physical activity. "Increasing levels of physical activity is absolutely crucial and we strongly support Labour’s decision to place the promotion of physical activity at the centre of its public health policy."

That said, the FDF spokesperson was less supportive of Labour's pledge on advertising. "In the UK we already have one of the strictest advertising regulatory regimes in the world concerning the foods that can be advertised to children on TV," the spokesperson said. The spokesperson added an Ofcom review had found "a significant reduction in the amount of advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt seen by children, and also in the techniques used that might appeal to children".

As well as in campaign circles, there will obviously be parts of the food sector focused on healthier products that may welcome Labour's pledges. However, one imagines some major brand owners will be less than happy at the announcements.

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