Friday 8 March 2019

Junk food (part two)

Further to yesterday's post, the IEA has now published my short briefing paper looking at what qualifies as 'junk food' for British regulators. The actual category is HFSS (High in Fat, Salt or Sugar) and my primary conclusion is that...

Polling companies should avoid the term ‘junk food’ in surveys. The legally meaningfully term HFSS should be used (and explained) instead. Politicians and journalists should also familiarise themselves with the definition of HFSS and give the public an accurate impression of the range of food and drink products that will be impacted by further government regulation.

HFSS food is what the rest of us just call 'food'. Much of it is not particularly high in fat, sugar or salt and a lot of it has been eaten for generations, if not millennia. Moreover, Public Health England is in the process of making the lowering the bar even lower to accommodate the unscientific change in the sugar guidelines. Here's the proportion of products that are classed as HFSS currently and the proportion that will be HFSS once Public Health England is through. Click to enlarge.

This is more than a technical issue. After capitulating to Jamie Oliver last June, the government plans to ban HFSS advertising on TV before 9pm, ban HFSS food from being included in meal deals and BOGOFs, and ban shopkeepers from stocking HFSS food at the store entrance, near the till and at the end of aisles. If campaigners get their way, this will only be the start of state control of the food supply.

The ban on discounts could cost households hundreds of pounds a year. As I say in the briefing:

These policies will hinder competition and innovation in one of the country’s biggest and most important markets. The many negative impacts are beyond the scope of this briefing paper but, to take one example, most of the products which could be advertised on television before 9pm under government proposals are raw ingredients - meat, fruit, vegetables, etc. - which are not generally advertised because they are cheap and unbranded. Pre-watershed food advertising would therefore be limited to a relative handful of niche health foods. Broadcasters have not said how much money they would lose, but it would certainly be in the tens of millions of pounds. This is money that could be used to make television programmes. Ironically, HFSS food will continue to be promoted before the watershed in programmes such as Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast and The Great British Bake Off, but it will be illegal to promote the same food in the ad breaks

The public has been misled - again.

You can download the briefing paper here.

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