England’s outgoing Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dame Sally Davies, has called for the government to introduce plain packaging on junk food items if manufacturers do not reduce the levels of sugar, salt and fat within their products, as well as tighter restrictions on sugary foods and takeaways.
These recommendations come as part of a wider strategy created by the CMO in a move to improve the health of young people within the UK and tackle rising child obesity rates. Davies stated that children needed more help as they’re “drowning in a flood” of unhealthy options in terms of snacks and sweets, setting a target to halve the rates of childhood obesity by 2030.
The move to plain packaging would mirror that of tobacco products which replaced the typical visual branding elements with warning messages and the brand name in a standardised font. This could potentially dissuade children from choosing junk food products as it would be less visually appealing and could have the added benefit of allowing statements like allergen warnings become more prominent on pack.
Another suggestion from Davies was for the sugar tax, which was originally introduced back in April 2018, to be extended to include milk-based drinks like milkshakes and flavoured milks which are currently exempt. According to Davies, the sugar tax has helped to reduce sugar consumption by around a fifth as people choose other options and food manufacturers limit the amount of sugar in their products, so by extending this there could be a further reduction in average sugar intake. She also discussed adding VAT to unhealthy products which are currently zero-rated such as cakes, as this would further dissuade people from picking these products due to the increased price.
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Whilst these new calls are focussed around junk food we only have to look to last year to see how a new tax might be implemented.
In April 2018 the UK government implemented a new tax on high sugar soft drinks that aimed to encourage companies to reformulate their soft drinks, the levy is applied at a rate of 24p per litre for drinks that contain eight grams of sugar or more per 100 millilitres.
Drinks that contain between five and eight grams of sugar per 100 millilitres will be subject to a tax of 18p per litre.
There are exemptions, such as pure fruit juices with no added sugar and drinks with a high milk content, owing to their calcium benefits.
The sugar tax applies specifically to manufacturers, meaning it is up to these businesses whether they pass on higher costs to their customers.
If the government decides to enforce these new junk food rules we might see similar taxes on unhealthy foods structured this way.
Tighter rules on takeaway also formed part of the recommendations made by the CMO, including making it harder to open fast-food takeaways and capping the calorie content of food served out-of-the-home. By putting restrictions on the number of calories a portion of junk food can contain, it would help to limit the size of each serving. These measures could help to prevent children from getting access to excessive junk foods after school and while out of the home, potentially helping to lower the intake of salt, fats and sugar.
Whilst these plans are currently just under consideration, it’s important for both food manufacturers and takeaways to be aware of the changing food retail landscape and how it could affect your business. Virtual College are constantly keeping an eye on any new rules and regulations so we can keep our courses current and up-to-date. All our food hygiene courses include relevant materials that you need to navigate the food and hospitality industries, so you can feel reassured you are complying with current government policy.