Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Defining junk food - almost nothing has changed

I've got a piece in The Times today about the ban on 'junk food' advertising. I wrote it on Sunday, shortly after the government announced a public consultation on the policy. One part of the press release particularly interested me...

When this was finally announced at the weekend, it came with an anxious reassurance from Steve Brine, the public health minister, that “this isn’t about banning everyday staples like butter and olive oil”.

If, as this suggests, the government is going to grant ad hoc exemptions for certain products, the thinly veiled snobbery that lies behind the war on food will be laid bare. The high in fat, salt or sugar measure may be puritanical but it has the virtue of being consistent. You can’t give a pass to fatty or sugary products just because middle-class people buy them from Waitrose.

The consultation was published yesterday and answered that question. I've written about it for Spectator Health today...

The government intends to apply the advertising ban to any product that is both defined as HFSS and is included in Public Health England’s sugar and calorie reduction programme. This gets butter and olive oil off the hook because the former is only included in the salt reduction programme and olive oil is not part of the reformulation programme at all.

So many foods are included in the sugar and calorie reduction programme that the new exemption makes little difference to the advertising ban’s vast scope. It means that there is an exemption for butter, which is great news for Johnny Rotten, but Public Health England’s documents reveal that the only other HFSS foods that will benefit from the loophole are fat spreads, olive oil, baked beans, stock cubes and cheese.

The following categories will still be covered by the ban:

Breakfast cereals, yoghurts, fromage frais, sweet biscuits, savoury biscuits, cakes, pastries, croissants, pain au chocolat, puddings, ice cream, sweets, chocolate, jam, marmalade, honey, pasta products, rice products, quiche, breadsticks, noodle products, crackers, crispbreads, ‘bread with additions (eg. ciabatta with olives)’, ‘ready meals with carbohydrate accompaniment’, ‘meal centres without carbohydrate accompaniment’, ketchup, mayonnaise, pretzels, flapjack, oatcakes, ricecakes, cereal bars, bacon, kebabs, ham, pepperami, haggis, sausage rolls, pesto, fish fingers, guacamole, salsa, salad dressing, curry sauces, pasta sauces, ‘egg products’ (but not eggs), ‘potato products’ (but not potatoes), pasties, pies, sausages, milk drinks, sorbets, hummus, coleslaw, potato salad, soup, sandwiches and ‘food-to-go’. I could go on.

A few of these could be viewed as ‘junk food’ and several of them should be considered as treats, but more of them look like the kind of ‘everyday staples’ that Brine claims to be protecting. It is debatable whether many of them ‘have little nutritional value’ or needed to be shielded from children’s delicate eyes. The purported war on ‘junk food’ remains an assault on what most of us simply call ‘food’.

Read The Times article here (£) and the Spectator article here.

And if you have a view on where the government can stick its latest ban, you can respond (fairly easily) to the consultation here.

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