Food and drink industry director hits out at health charities


The corporate affairs director of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) - which represents the food and drink industry - has launched a stinging attack on two health charities.

Tim Rycroft has written to Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine and chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) and Action on Sugar about the charities' desire to ask manufacturers for their views on reformulating products.

Cash and Action on Sugar have asked food and drink firms for their views on reformulation - such as lowering the amount of sugar and salt in foods and reducing portion sizes.

In his letter, Mr Rycroft makes it clear he will be advising industry members not to respond to the charity requests and argues firms should just deal with the Government.

The letter states: "We are aware that Cash/Action on Sugar has written to several FDF member companies on the subject of product reformulation.

"As you know, FDF members are committed to going further with their long-established programme of voluntary product reformulation (and changes to portion size) in order to help tackle obesity.

"We believe it is for Government to collect information and host discussions with a range of stakeholders on what is the most appropriate way for it to set its public health policy, and not for others, NGOs (non-Governmental organisations) or industry to dictate.

"I will therefore be recommending to my members that they continue to engage closely and constructively with the Department of Health and Public Health England on reformulation issues, but that we do not see the additional value in them providing this information to Cash/Action on Sugar."

Prof MacGregor said the Cash/Action on Sugar letter merely sought information and was in no way trying to dictate to industry.

He said: "This is typical of the mentality of the FDF, trying to dictate to us and to the industry what we can and can't do in trying to tackle Britain's escalating obesity crisis, and is a clear attempt at preventing NGOs and the food industry to communicate and express their views openly.

"The FDF is clearly trying to do everything in its power to stop a coherent plan for sugar and fat reduction, just as they previously rigorously opposed any attempt of salt reduction.

"Despite this, the branded food industry did reduce the amount of salt added to their food. It was only then that the FDF congratulated itself for all of the good work they had done to encourage salt reduction."

Prof MacGregor said some FDF members had in fact responded positively to the Cash/Action on Sugar letter and were engaging in a "constructive dialogue".

Action on Sugar has also written to Prime Minister, David Cameron, asking when the Government's childhood obesity strategy - due to be published last year - will be released.

It said it was clear industry was trying to "dilute" the strategy.

In their letter, Cash/Action on Sugar asked firms: "We would be very grateful if you could let us have your views from your company's perspective as to what you see would be the fairest and best way of getting reformulation of sugar and... fat, as well as restoring the salt reduction programme over the course of the next five years.

"In particular, would you prefer mandatory targets both for salt and sugar and fat?"

Mr Rycroft said the FDF worked "constructively with health stakeholders" and it did not "warn" members not to communicate with Cash/Action on Sugar.

He added: "Members being bombarded with time consuming requests for information asked us if they had to respond to Cash.

"We advised that their tight resource would be best spent engaging with Government on technical discussions around product change. It would be a big burden on companies for them to discuss their plans with all of their stakeholders. Companies will of course make their own decisions about who they speak to."