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December 9, 2014

UK mulls adding official “five-a-day” mark to ready meals

The UK government is considering allowing ready meal manufacturers to put the official five-a-day logo on their products.

By Dean Best

The UK government is considering allowing ready meal manufacturers to put the official five-a-day logo on their products.

Under guidance launched in 2003, UK consumers are advised to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The recommendation has won plaudits for being one of the few official health messages to have resonated with shoppers but the country’s government has found UK consumers still do not enough fruit and veg.

“Composite foods”, including products ranging from ready meals to coleslaw, are at present not allowed to use the official logo.

Three years ago, discussions were held about extending the use of the five-a-day logo but the talks faltered on the limits that would be placed on the levels of nutrients including fat in the foods.

Government agency Public Health England is re-examining the issue, keen to up consumption of fruit and veg without promoting the over-eating of calories, saturated fat, salt and sugar.

“We are re-visiting the possibility of extending the PHE 5 A Day logo and portion indicator scheme to include composite foods. This would potentially allow more products that meet strict nutrition criteria to display the logo; increase popularity of the scheme and elicit wider support of its use; [and] enable discussions with industry with a view to reaching industry wide support for use of the logo,” Public Health England said in an analysis paper on the subject.

The fresh discussions will take in issues including how to calculate the number of portions of fruit and veg in composite foods, the number of portions per serving for a composite food allowed to carry the official logo and what critieria should be used to decide what foods are eligible.

One option is leaning on the traffic-light front-of-pack labels used in the UK as a guide. However, research from Public Health England carried out earlier this year on 339 products in 27 “composite” categories found only 2% of lines would qualify if only products marked with a green traffic light were eligible for the extended five-a-day logo.

Widening the critieria to include foods with an amber traffic light meant a quarter of foods would be allowed to use the logo, the research showed.

Another discussion point focuses on using official targets on salt.

The talks will also look at “best practice” guidance drawn up by industry research body the IGD.

In 2011, the IGD drew up guidelines for retailers on calculating and communicating the level of fruit and veg portions in composite foods in a bid, Public Health England, said to “prompt a more consistent approach across the sector”.

The guidelines, revised in April, were drawn up by the IGD’s Industry Nutrition Strategy Group, which includes manufacturers like Greencore and the UK’s largest supermarket chains such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s.

The IGD guidance says, for example, composite foods must “have an appropriate variety of fruit and vegetables in a portion of the product if more than one portion is declared”, the Public Health England document read.

The IGD also says composite foods must also not exceed limits on saturated fat and adhere to targets for salt drawn up under the Public Health Responsibility Deal between government and industry. 

Public Health England said “many retailers” are following the IGD’s guidance.

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