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FSA keeps protein cap in place, industry objects

By Lorraine Heller , 26-Mar-2009

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) yesterday confirmed the implementation of a protein cap that limits products such as cereals being advertised to children.

The nation’s food industry has said it “rejects” the FSA board decision, which it says “raises serious questions about the agency’s commitment to better regulation”.

The protein cap is part of the FSA’s nutrient profiling model which differentiates foods on the basis of their nutrient composition to help regulators apply TV advertising controls to improve the balance of foods being advertised to children.

It prevents foods containing high levels of fat, salt or sugar, being classed as 'healthier' because of their protein content, and limits the advertising of some products such as breakfast cereals and crisps.

Working effectively

The FSA asked an independent review panel to look at this nutrient profiling model and it concluded last year that there were a number of reasons why the cap should be removed, as it was not convinced of the scientific rationale for retaining it.

However, the agency’s board yesterday agreed that the model was, in fact, “working effectively”, and that it would not be “appropriate to relax the model”.

“We have been concerned for many years about the impact that an imbalance in food advertising can have on children’s diets,” said FSA Chair Deirdre Hutton.

“We welcome the conclusion that the nutrient profiling model is fundamentally robust and is helping to tackle this imbalance. Reducing the number of TV adverts for less healthy foods to which children are exposed is an important contribution towards improving public health.”

Outside scope of science?

However, the trade group Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said the decision to keep the protein cap in place was “disappointing”, and generates an “environment of regulatory uncertainty” that will make it difficult for industry to make plans.

“The decision not to remove the protein cap flies in the face of the recommendation of the Independent Review Panel, which has spent two years assessing the effectiveness of the nutrient profiling model. Yet again a proposal has been introduced at the last minute, outside the process of scientific review and stakeholder consultation,” said FDF director general Melanie Leech.

The group said it will be calling on the FSA to “clarify when it expects to base its decisions on science, and when – and on what basis – it will think it appropriate to set the science aside.”

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