This week, from 8th to 14th March, the World is marking Salt Awareness Week. This is a time for the public, private and third sectors to come together and raise awareness of the need to reduce salt consumption in a bid to improve people’s health.
With obesity numbers going up and COVID-19 highlighting the need for governments to protect the health of their citizens, it has become more important than ever to talk about long term solutions. Salt and sugar reduction strategies are a staple of obesity efforts across the EU and the UK. In addition, there are several policy and regulatory proposals that are currently being developed by policymakers that promise to reduce the most damaging nutrients from our diets. The food industry has also been doing its part by producing reformulation strategies, cutting the calories of their products and improving labelling. Finally, food businesses are also undergoing restrictions in their ability to promote foods high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS).
Whitehouse has taken a look at some key developments in the UK and the EU that the food industry needs to be aware of and how stakeholders can join the debate in an impactful way.
UK agenda on salt reduction
The drive to get the British nation fitter and eating more healthily is an effort taken personally by PM Boris Johnson following his Covid-19 infection beginning of last year. In July 2020, the new obesity strategy was unveiled, urging the country to lose weight to beat Covid-19 and protect the NHS.
Following this, in September 2020, Public Health England (PHE) published the Salt reduction targets for 2024 along with new calorie reduction guidelines, as part of the Government’s commitment to tackle obesity. The new salt targets are built on the previous salt targets which were launched in 2017 and include 8 new subcategories, bringing the total up to 84.
In December 2020, the UK Government launched an open call to gather stakeholders’ views on the enforcement of restrictions to the promotions of HFSS. The consultation’s objective was to ensure that all those impacted by this new regulation are clear about the requirements so that it can be implemented effectively once enacted.
While health campaigners have welcomed the proposed changes, not all food businesses seem to be happy. Some claim that the unveiled plans would disproportionately hit small- and medium-sized enterprises. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) shared a letter with the government which was signed by around 800 food and drink manufacturers and 3,000 UK brands urging the government to give industry more time for the implementation of these changes. The discussions have yet to end with the results of this consultation to be published later this Spring.
To mark Salt Awareness Week, researchers at Action on Salt (AoS) are calling for a restriction on the use of misleading nutrition claims on HFSS foods. In a report published on 9th March by AoS, researchers found that some ‘healthy’ snacks are saltier than the concentration of seawater and could be sabotaging people’s health. Given this, AoS urges the British Government to appoint a successor to Public Health England to help bring down salt levels across all food.
What about the European Union?
In the EU, policymakers are currently working on a new instrument, the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F), which aims to facilitate the shift towards healthier, more sustainable diets. Being at the core of the European Green Deal, the main objective of F2F strategy is to create a favourable food environment which would ultimately open the door to progress and innovation in the EU food system.
On salt reduction, the Commission is focusing on providing consumers with clear information with which they can make informed choices and offer healthy and sustainable food products. In this context, the Commission is pushing for mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling and will launch initiatives to stimulate product reformulation, including by setting up nutrient profiles to restrict the promotion (via nutrition or health claims) of foods high in fat, sugars and salt.
While the proposed strategy and action plans have been welcomed by many industry stakeholders due to its sustainable approach, there are also voices stating that the strategy is focused too much on the agricultural policy and less on food products and practices, and the collateral costs that may impact small and medium size businesses.
It’s not too late, have your say! With the Commission publishing the roadmap on EU F2F strategy, all sectors concerned are invited to share their views before 16th March on the upcoming initiative, hence, don’t miss your chance to be part of this debate and shape the strategy’s outcome.
Challenges and opportunities for food businesses
There is no straight answer when it comes to what food businesses’ approach to regulatory and policy changes should be. While food companies are encouraged to embrace innovation and invest in new technology to achieve further internal progress on HFSS reduction, there are also challenges that cannot be dismissed and may dictate the success or otherwise of these efforts. One of these is to ensure that food products remain appealing to consumers.
To keep up with the legislative changes while remaining competitive, the food sector must continue to engage with policy makers in a positive way by presenting itself as a solution to governments’ challenges. It may be a long ride until real progress on salt reduction is delivered, but dialogue would help to ensure challenges are heard and opportunities are made available.
If your business needs any support or advice in navigating these policy challenges, or if you have any questions about how these may impact your industry, please do get in touch by contacting Viviana Spaghetti, Director of European Affairs at Viviana.Spaghetti@whitehousecomms.com