HL Deb 12 May 2003 vol 648 cc4-6

2.44 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have had any discussions with the sugar industries concerning guidelines on healthy eating.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, there is an NHS Plan commitment to work with industry to improve the overall balance of the diet, including salt, fat and sugar in food. The Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency are in discussion with industry on reducing the salt in foods. Work on sugars and fat will follow through 2003–04.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will my noble friend do everything she can to support the WHO at a time when it is under attack from the sugar and other industries in the United States? What representations have been made by the Government to the WHO and also to the industries concerned?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the WHO has recommended that sugar should form no more than 10 per cent of average energy intake. That is the level mentioned in the UK's own guidelines so we are foursquare with the WHO in that regard. The expert committee will refer back to the WHO. I am sure that we shall support it in every way.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, on a secondary but no less important matter than our own guidelines, will the Government assist the World Health Organisation in precisely the terms mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis; that is, in resisting pressure from US sugar interests to try to bury the kind of recommendation we are discussing? Recently, the US Sugar Association responded to the WHO report by saying that there was, '''a preponderance of recent scientific evidence' exonerating sugar as a cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hyperactivity and tooth decay". That is clearly nonsense. Will the UK Government make absolutely certain that they support the WHO?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, it is important to note that the expert report which contained the recommendation referred to the global population. It suggested that individual countries would make their own recommendations. The best thing we can do is to uphold our 10 per cent figure. We believe that that figure indicates a safe level of sugar consumption for our population and that of the rest of the world.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree—it is a fact, so she should Agree—that it is absolutely futile for the Government or anyone else to talk about nutrition and what is good or bad for people until the Food Standards Agency and the Government take appropriate steps to require easily assimilable and comparable nutritional labelling on all packed foods? That step is still overdue.

Baroness Andrews

Yes, my Lords. How dare I disagree with the noble Baroness? I wish to make two comments. First, the Food Standards Agency has an action plan on labelling. It is considering the whole range of issues concerning labelling, not just its scope and its efficiency. Just as importantly, we are taking a lead in Europe. Obviously, to an extent our food labelling is governed by European directives. We are pressing in Europe for more comprehensive ingredient listing, better country of origin labelling, clear nutrition labelling and tight controls on nutrition and health claims. We are doing our best to take a lead in this area.

Lord Rea

My Lords, can my noble friend say what the Government's position is with regard to the Private Member's Bill being introduced in another place which seeks to regulate advertising of food and sweets directly aimed at children? Is she aware that a recent opinion poll showed that some 80 per cent of the population would favour such legislation?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I am sure that the Government will look carefully at the Private Member's Bill. Importantly, the Food Standards Agency is taking a lead in funding a systematic review of research into advertising and the promotion of food with regard to children. That will be published in July 2003. We are painfully short of information and research on the link between food promotion and eating behaviour. I hope that the review will help to clarify the position.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, what is the opinion of the Government in relation to the current campaign by Cadbury's to sell more chocolate to children thereby encouraging the purchase of IT equipment for schools?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness knows that the Get Active! programme is not a government initiative. We are not encouraging children to eat more confectionery. The project was negotiated between Cadbury's and the Youth Sport Trust, an independent charity. Ultimately, schools themselves decide whether to take part in that project. The most important action we can take is to pursue our schools' fruit scheme, which will reach a million four to six year-olds this summer, and the Food and Health Action Plan, which next year will bring together all our policies. I refer also to the considerable amount of money we are putting into school sport in a number of different ways.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, have the Government had discussions with the manufacturers of confectionery? Can the Minister confirm that chocolate and the products of the cocoa bean represent healthy eating if consumed in moderation?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, as something of a "chocoholic" myself, that is quite good news. We must take care when trying tackle the problem of obesity that our general message is one of moderation, balance in the diet and good sense. I am sure that the industry has been involved in the FSA's discussions on the reduction of sugar in foods in general. We will play a part in getting them into partnership as much as possible.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, my noble friend's comments on labelling will be most welcome, but will she use her influence to ensure that it is not good enough merely to have labelling but that such labelling should be in a type that is large enough to be readable in a supermarket? All too often, one cannot see what it says in the dim light of a supermarket and one does not know what the labelling means.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, it is not merely in the dim light of a supermarket; often one cannot see it in the full light of day. I agree that the label should be of a size and a clarity that really makes it helpful to people. I am sure that that is one of the issues that the FSA review will be examining.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the fact—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, we are over time now; we are all waiting for my Cabinet colleague to reply.