The UK Government is Taking the Biscuit and you’ve helped us expose this
In January 2023, we launched our “Taking the Biscuit” campaign to expose UK Government support for ultra-processed foods or UPFs. A huge thank you for helping us bring our campaign to their attention and joining us in calling for urgent action.
The UK Government promotes ultra-processed foods
Despite growing evidence showing the major health risks associated with these foods, the UK Government’s ‘Better Health’ campaign and its Food Scanner App promote their consumption.
Launched in 2022 to encourage parents to ‘take control of their children’s snacking’, the free-to-download ‘Food Scanner’ App provides information about scanned products in store or at home. Our investigation found the App awarded the UK Government’s Good Choice badge and similar endorsements to many products encouraging unhealthy snacking, artificially sweetened beverages and even energy drinks, promoting them as healthy swaps.
We are hugely grateful to the almost 14,000 of you who signed our petition calling on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay, to:
- Remove the UK government’s Good Choice badge from ultra-processed products,
- Introduce dietary guidelines to address ultra-processed foods,
- Introduce a percentage reduction target to reduce ultra-processed food consumption to more healthy levels by 2030,
- And talk to families about their experience of ultra-processed foods, working to ensure that healthy foods are more accessible and affordable.
Nearly 2,000 of you also responded to our second call to action, writing to your MP to ask them to support our campaign, write to Steve Barclay themselves and ask a question in parliament about ultra-processed foods. Several MPs asked parliamentary questions in response to your requests, showing firm support for action to address these foods.
A fantastic result from your actions!
I’ve produced a short film to thank you for all your help and support for our campaign.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition is reviewing the evidence
Following our campaign launch and the action you took, Health Minister Neil O’Brien announced that the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), on whose recommendations the UK Government bases its dietary guidelines, is carrying out a scoping review of the evidence on processed foods and health and aims to publish its initial assessment in the summer of 2023. With the growing evidence that diets dominated by ultra-processed food are detrimental to our health and their over-consumption linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, poor liver health, depression and all cause mortality, we hope the Committee will recommend much-needed action to address UPFs.
We continue to call for UPFs to be removed from the NHS Food Scanner app and it’s ‘Good Choice’ badge endorsement. The Minister’s response to MPs also revealed shortcomings in the Government’s advice to families looking to identify healthier options in store or online, noting that “the app and wider Better Health campaign supports families on their journey towards having a healthier diet, as making the step to the healthiest option may be too far for many people in one move”. Is this an acceptable position for the Government to take on this issue? We don’t think so!
The food industry is powerful and influential
We know the food industry is incredibly powerful and we are deeply concerned about its influence on public health policy in the UK and elsewhere. Earlier this year, a series in the Lancet outlined how “four industries (tobacco, unhealthy food, fossil fuel, and alcohol) are responsible for at least a third of global deaths per year” and “their products and practices are having increasingly negative impacts on human and planetary health and equity”. The World Health Organization has raised similar concerns, concluding that “company choices in the production, price-setting and targeted marketing of products”, including “ultra-processed foods, tobacco, sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol lead to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, as well as hypertension and obesity”.
Our letter to Steve Barclay
We wanted to meet those responsible to discuss our campaign and seek opportunities for change but, frustratingly, Health Minister Neil O’Brien told us he didn’t have time to meet with us and attempts to meet with Secretary of State Steve Barclay, including via a constituent in his constituency, have been refused. So we’re publishing this open letter to him today.
We will let you know if we receive a response.
UPFs are bad for the environment too
The last few weeks have seen a surge of attention around ultra-processed food, with the publication of our friend Chris van Tulleken’s Ultra-Processed People. Our Head of Food Policy, Rob Percival, is also co-author of a paper published in Global Food Security on the environmental impacts of ultra-processed food, a helpful summary of which you’ll find published in our newly updated Ultra-Processed Planet report.
It's fantastic to see so much debate and attention focused on this hugely important issue for health, biodiversity and climate and we thank you again for helping us to bring it to the forefront of those with government responsibility to take action.
Buoyed by your energy and enthusiasm for our campaign, we will continue to call on the UK Government to stop Taking the Biscuit and push for policy commitments to address our concerns in the run-up to the general election next year.