David Thomson: Obesity has to be tackled – but not at the expense of Scottish food and drink industry jobs

Changing the information on food labels in Scotland could have an effect on manufacturers if it results in variations across the United Kingdom, says David Thomson
Changing the information on food labels in Scotland could have an effect on manufacturers if it results in variations across the United Kingdom, says David Thomson
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At the start of the year most of us set goals to exercise more and to eat healthily. The Scottish Government’s goal is much bigger – they are looking at ways to make the whole of Scotland healthier and we want to do our bit to help make that happen.

The diet and obesity strategy ­consultation came to a close at the end of January. This set out what the Scottish Government wants to do to improve the health of the nation. Obesity is a complex challenge to which there is no single solution – I am pleased that the consultation ­recognises that only a holistic approach will have any chance of success.

David Thomson, CEO Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland

David Thomson, CEO Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland

Our food and drink members take their role in tackling obesity very ­seriously. They are limiting portion sizes, reformulating products and educating consumers about the food they eat. There has been a great deal of progress made and our members will continue to play their part.

FDF Scotland and our members don’t agree with everything in the consultation, but we will continue to work with Scottish Government to ensure any measures ­implemented are done in the best way possible.

The Scottish Government has said it will restrict food and drink ­promotions and the Scottish Parliament has the ­relevant powers to make that happen. The consultation asks what types of promotions it should cover, such as multibuy, two for one or ­temporary price ­promotions, and what foods it should target – single nutrient, high calories or products high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS).

This is very complicated and ­Scottish Government will need to engage with industry to develop the best way of doing this. Any ­method needs to be simple for businesses of all sizes to implement and use ­information that is easily accessible to all – including retailers and caterers and, of course, consumers.

The Scottish Government needs to keep in mind that our iconic Scottish brands – whose main market is in Scotland – stand to be affected by this much more than their international competitors, with some reporting that up to 60 per cent of their sales would be affected by this legislation.

We think the Scottish Government would be best placed to test their proposals for effectiveness and the potential impact on businesses before moving to national implementation. The food and drink ­manufacturing ­industry is a key part of Scotland’s economy – contributing £3.8 billion gross value added and providing 45,000 jobs. The ­Scottish Government has always supported the food and drink industry and needs to ensure that any measures implemented do not damage the future growth of our vital sector.

The Scottish Government says that it will explore whether it can ‘strengthen the current labelling’ on pre-packed food and drink to “improve the way in which we ­communicate important information” to consumers.

Changing labelling requirements to be different in Scotland than the rest of the UK would be hugely ­complicated. This would create ­variations on labels across the UK – making it ­harder for consumers to understand, and for companies to package and distribute products. The Scottish Government needs to consult widely with industry before making any changes.

Broadcast advertising is reserved to Westminster and the Scottish ­Government is calling on the UK Government to ban the advertising of HFSS foods before 9pm. If this doesn’t happen they will demand these ­powers be devolved to Holyrood.

Viewing habits have changed and school-aged children now spend more time online than watching a TV set. In addition, the UK’s advertising rules are amongst the strictest in the world. FDF Scotland fully ­supports the Committee of Advertising Practice’s rules introduced last year which put an end to the advertising of HFSS food in media targeted at children, including online. We don’t believe that putting further controls on advertising in what is already a strictly ­regulated marketplace is sensible. The Scottish Government needs to consider the adverse effect this could have on companies whose consumer demographic views television ­during the day. The Scottish Government will set out the next steps in spring or early summer. FDF Scotland looks forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland and industry partners from across the food ­supply chain to help make a real difference to Scotland’s health.

David Thomson, CEO Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland.