The UK’s Food and Drink Federation said today (22 March) it would “not be technically possible or acceptable to consumers” to meet a voluntary target – issued last year by the country’s government – to cut the sugar in products in nine categories by 20% by 2020.

Reducing sugar was the central aim of plans announced by the UK government last summer to tackle childhood obesity in England.  

However, today’s remarks by Tim Rycroft, the FDF’s corporate affairs director, ahead of the anticipated publication by Public Health England this month of initial “category-specific targets”,  is set to reignite reignite campaigners’ concerns about shortcomings in efforts to tackle obesity.

The FDF has said “consistently that a 20% sugar reduction by 2020 across all foods covered” would not be possible, Rycroft said. “While there is no question that obesity levels in the UK are unacceptably high… physical inactivity is a factor. For many the problem overwhelmingly is with excess calories in the diet. With many of these calories coming from sugars, we have been supporting the government as it develops its highly ambitious sugar reduction drive. 

Rycroft added: “We know our products have a special place in people’s lives and that we must keep our customers at the heart of this work. We believe the success of this work will hinge on the level of sustained engagement coming from the entire food industry. That’s why the involvement of all players – manufacturers, retailers and out of home operators – is so crucial to securing public support for the level of change we’re being asked to make.”

Rycroft said “responsible companies” will work with Public Health England to lower sugars in recipes and, “where it is not technically possible or acceptable to consumers, to lower portion sizes and encourage switching to lower-sugars alternatives”.