Thursday 4 May 2017

What is Public Health England doing to our food?

Lucozade's Twitter feed has been a lot of fun recently, as the company responds to outraged customers who have tasted the new, low-sugar version of the drink. Day after day, Lucozade is inundated by complaints and day after day the company adopts the PR strategy of Comical Ali, insisting that their flagship drink has changed due to consumer demand and has a 'great taste'.

Poor old Lucozade. This was not a business decision. Under pressure from the government, they were trying to do their bit to combat the non-existent childhood obesity epidemic. They wanted to avoid the sugar tax and get in the 'public health' racket's good books. And they will - because soon they won't be selling any drinks.

James Delingpole has written about the Lucozade farce in the Spectator today but the media have generally ignored the unfolding story of Britain's food supply being systematically degraded at the insistence of the state. No other country is attempting anything on this scale and for good reason: it is insane. You can't just cut 20 per cent of the sugar out of food products and expect people not to notice. It's going to taste bad.

Part of the reason for the media blackout is that the reformulation process is being carried out in secret. They literally call it 'health by stealth'. I have tried to get the minutes of the meetings with industry out of Public Health England to find out exactly what is being done to specific products but have come up empty-handed. All we have to go on are a succession of announcements about chocolate bars getting smaller, with Brexit-inspired inflation cited as a cover story, and a handful of documents from PHE: Sugar reduction and wider reformulation: stakeholder engagement, Sugar reduction and wider reformulation meetings: November 2016, and Sugar reduction: Achieving the 20%.

There is enough information in these documents to tell that PHE have started to realise the size of the challenge they have set for themselves. The whole thing is a disaster waiting to happen and PHE are bringing nothing to the table except an arbitrary demand to reduce sugar consumption by 20 per cent by 2020 (because who needs sensible policy when you can have a numerically alliterative target?).

The aim is to reduce sugar content by 20 per cent as measured by the sales weighted average. This means that the target cannot be achieved without the biggest selling brands being degraded. This is a massive problem in itself, because consumers do not want their favourite brands to change, but it is also a big problem for the manufacturers because if they ruin their biggest selling brands, they will no longer be the biggest selling brands. People will vote with their wallets and buy something else. And if consumers abandon the leading brands in search of something tastier, the targets will not be met.

This problem is hinted at - but not grasped - in one of the PHE documents when they say...

...businesses are also encouraged to focus on the everyday, ‘standard’ products rather than producing alternative ‘healthier’ options as these tend to be of limited appeal and may have a limited effect on the sales weighted average

PHE do not seem to give any thought as to why reduced-sugar products have 'limited appeal'. They seem to assume that people will always buy the biggest-selling brands regardless of how they taste and, therefore, that they can be tricked into buying 'healthier' options if companies change the recipe.

As Lucozade have recently discovered, this is a fantasy, but it is what happens when economically illiterate 'public health' dogma becomes government policy. The imbeciles of Action on Sugar (who attend PHE's meetings as 'stakeholders') believe that people's choices are made for them by corporate power and advertising. 'Public health' fools talk about companies 'controlling' a certain percentage of the market. As a result, they think that if you control the companies, you control the people. They massively underestimate consumer sovereignty and fundamentally misunderstand how markets work.

PHE discourage companies from making healthy alternatives because they know that people don't like them. Alternatives imply choice, and choice is the last thing PHE wants to give people. They want manufacturers to debase their flagship brands. The companies could do this, albeit reluctantly, while launching a new brand that tastes like the old one, but PHE warn them against this, saying...

If a business brings new products onto the market that are above the guideline sales weighted average sugar level, and they are successful, that business is unlikely to achieve the 5% and 20% targets for sugar reduction.

In other words, do not give consumers choice because there is a risk that consumers will choose the tasty versions. This is draconian as hell and PHE dress it up in Orwellian language, saying:

Our intention is that as a result of the sugar and calorie reduction programme, the healthier choice becomes the default choice for families. 

But what choice is there when the popular brands are turned into diet versions and the companies dare not launch a classic version?

The bottom line is that most people prefer the taste of sugar to that of artificial sweeteners, and many of the products in the firing line are inherently sweet. Products such as chocolate, confectionery and jam are not going to be magically reformulated with sweeteners. There is a dawning realisation that reducing portion sizes or having a calorie cap (which amount to much the same thing) are the only viable options.

While the achievement of the 20% reduction by 2020 is the overall focus of the programme, smaller gradual reductions can provide a useful contribution to reducing sugar and calorie consumption, and ultimately towards achieving the overall goal. This applies particularly in those products where sugar reduction per 100g can be more difficult, for example, in chocolate confectionery. Where this is the case, businesses are expected to employ additional mechanisms, such as reducing portion size, to achieve the total 20% reduction.

PHE repeatedly acknowledge that shrinking products is the way forward for a wide range of foods...

Over the next three years, you are going to hear about a lot of sugary products getting smaller. It will have nothing to do with Brexit or the fall in the pound (quite obviously, the normal response to inflation is to increase the price, not shrink the product). It is because the food industry is desperately trying to comply with the demands of government apparatchiks.

And it doesn't stop there. PHE are also going to be interfering in what restaurants and takeaways can sell (or, as they euphemistically put it, 'engaging with the eating out of home sector to ensure that a level playing field is established'.)

And very soon they will soon be embarking on the next stage of the reformulation programme by reducing flavour in everything...

The wider reformulation programme will also commence later in 2017. At first this will concentrate on setting guidelines to reduce total calories in a wider range of products than those covered by the sugar reduction work (eg savoury snacks, burgers, pizzas) that contribute significantly

It is anticipated that the SACN report on saturated fat will be published by early 2018. This will be used to review and inform our future work on saturated fat reduction. In addition, businesses are expected to continue working towards achieving the current salt reduction targets and we will consider this work in more detail at a later stage this year.

These maniacs have to be stopped.

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