Dairy UK: Gov’t must take more science-based approach to nutrition

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Fsa Nutrition

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Trade body Dairy UK has urged the UK government to take a more science-based approach to nutrition policy when staff from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) join the Department of Health (DoH) in the autumn.

Its comments came as 25 staff moved from the FSA into the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' (DEFRA's) offices at Smith Square in London in the first stage of a restructuring that will see the FSA slimmed down to focus on food safety.

Dairy UK technical director Ed Komorowski told FoodManufacture.co.uk he hoped the DoH would “look at nutrition afresh”​ when the FSA team arrived, particularly on saturated fat reduction.

“The FSA’s messages on saturated fat and dairy were not always science-based and we really hope that under the DoH, there will be a re-examination of the science and an acceptance that there should be a sound scientific basis for policy recommendations.

“We also hope there will be a realisation that there is more to nutrition than cutting fat, sugar and salt. You also can’t look at nutrients in isolation.

"If the policy is to reduce dairy to cut saturated fat intake, the net result could be that you get more bone health problems, for example, quite apart from the fact that milk has in any case been shown to be protective to heart health.”

Bad science?

‘Fat consultant’ Geoff Talbot also welcomed a closer look at the health benefits of saturated fat reduction. For example, some compelling academic studies had recently suggested that there was “no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is connected to increased risk of cardiovascular disease”,​ he noted.

Meanwhile, replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates – what many manufacturers were doing in order to meet FSA targets - was also questionable, he argued. “Substituting polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats would be more beneficial for cardiovascular disease risk.”

British Retail Consortium (BRC) food policy director Andrew Opie said he hoped for a “less prescriptive approach”​ from the DoH: “Retailers will continue to work hard on reformulation, but I’m predicting that there will be a less prescriptive approach from the DoH, which we would welcome. They seem less obsessed with targets.”

Meanwhile, most firms contacted by FoodManufacture.co.uk said they were still pressing on with reformulation work, irrespective of the changes at the FSA.

One branded manufacturer said: “I’m not doing this ​[reducing saturated fat] just to meet FSA targets. I’m doing it for lots of reasons. One is that we want to reduce saturated fat if we can; another is that I don’t want to get a call from the Daily Mail asking what my brand has done to reduce saturated fat and have to respond with ‘nothing’.”

Marks & Spencer company nutritionist Claire Hughes said changes at the FSA did not mean the pressure to reformulate had eased: "We started reducing salt well before the FSA started to campaign on the issue. It's something we think is important for our customers and our business."

Transfer of responsibilities

The way responsibilities had been transferred from the FSA to DEFRA and DoH was “reasonably clear”​ said Opie at the BRC, although there were now “three organisations to talk to now instead of one”​.

An FSA spokesman said 25 staff had now moved over to DEFRA including deputy director of the food policy unit Michael Wight.

He added: ”About 70 policy people and a number of other support and admin people will be going over to the Department of Health reasonably soon but we haven’t given a date yet.”

Labelling: Who does what?

The FSA said it would retain responsibility for food safety aspects of labelling such as date marking, allergens and novel foods (including nanotechnology), while in England, DEFRA would now deal with labelling that did not relate to food safety or nutrition, covering areas such as country of origin labelling, food composition standards and the use of marketing terms such as 'natural' and 'fresh'.

The DoH will cover nutritional labelling and relevant EU negotiations including nutrition-related aspects of the EU Food Information Regulation, front-of-pack labelling and health claims (in England).

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were “currently considering whether they want to make any alterations to their current arrangements for food labelling and composition policy”​, it added.

Click here​ to see the full breakdown of responsibilities between the FSA, DEFRA and the DoH.

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