In its ‘Action for Growth’ document (subtitled ‘A Plan for Partnership Between Government and Industry to Deliver Growth in the UK Dairy Sector’) Dairy UK addresses the issue of nutrition policy alongside other key issues such as R&D, CAP reform, water regulation, exports and origin labeling.
But warning that public health messages currently focused on ‘negatives’ that risked tarnishing the image of healthy foods, Dairy UK said that consumers would be better served by information stressing the ‘positives’, to make healthy food choices.
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt were nutrient rich – with a high amount of vitamins and minerals per calorie, Dairy UK said, and the body argued that the UK government should do more to encourage the consumption of such foods.
Rather than simply paying attention to cutting calorie intake, the authorities also needed to promote initiatives aimed at promoting calorie burning through physical activity, the trade body argued.
Reformulation focus risks damaging dairy
In addition, a Dairy UK spokesman told DairyReporter.com: “The current focus on reformulation, and in particular, the press associated with it, risks putting many consumers off eating dairy foods. Since consumers do not have a large nutritional knowledge, they risk not being able to replace the nutrients they would miss by reducing the amount of dairy they eat or avoiding it altogether.”
But Dairy UK said that signals from policy makers suggested that they would like to see the reformulated product become the standard product and see the standard product disappear. “Having, for example, only low fat options would not be appropriate for some segments of the population, i.e. the very young and in many cases, the elderly, and could impact their long-term nutritional status.”
The authorities also needed to ensure that dairy foods were not disadvantaged by prospective nutrient profiles – planned to accompany the EU nutrition and health claims regulation – Dairy UK said.
Asked whether Dairy UK was aware of a timetable for possible legislation on nutrient profiles – subject to a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority’s NDA panel in February 2008 – the spokesman said: “It’s been promised for a long time, but we still don’t know when to expect it.”
“There is a real risk that certain dairy products could be disadvantaged if the profiles are based on sat fat and salt levels that are too tight. We need to ensure the profiles are appropriate, particularly for UK cheese,” he added.
Department of Health response
Dairy UK also called for ‘sector pledges’ under the government’s Responsibility Deal, whereby the industry could agree its own pledges with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Secretary of State “without oversight from other groups”.
The spokesman said: “What we are looking to develop are dairy specific actions, agreed with the DoH and falling within the newly announced Calorie Reduction Pledge. We want dairy specific actions so that we can establish exactly where the sector is at present and where we can aim to be by specific milestones.”
Presented with Dairy UK’s general concerns, a DOH spokeswoman said: “Milk and dairy products are an important source of energy, protein and calcium for growing children and young adults especially in relation to dental and bone health. The Department of Health recognises the role milk and dairy foods have as part of a healthy balanced diet.
“Milk and dairy products form part of Government advice on a healthy balanced diet, as depicted in the eatwell plate. This advice is promoted through a range of channels including NHS Choices and Change4Life messaging and websites.”
Bad press based on ‘flimsy evidence’
Professor Ian Givens, director of Reading University’s Centre for Dairy Research, recently presented a paper at the European Dairy Association’s (EDA’s) policy conference on saturated fats.
Explaining a slide he presented there, showing a Daily Mail story from January 2010, where a heart surgeon called for butter to be banned on public health grounds, due to high saturated fatty acid content, Givens told DairyReporter.com: “There has been quite a lot of attention played to milk and dairy products over the last year or two, a lot of which has been based on flimsy evidence, I think.”
Asked if he agreed with Dairy UK that dairy deserved stronger support from government, Givens said: “I agree with them, certainly as far as milk is concerned the evidence is now quite strong (although not as strong for cheese and butter) that there are definite benefits in consuming more rather than less. That probably applies right across the age span as well.
Givens added: “Here in the UK, for instance, there’s a major issue with teenagers, particularly teenagers, because their calcium intake (through milk) drops from age of 11 to around 18, at the point when they need it most for bone development, etc. The dairy industry could help to deal with this issue, and could do with more support from government.”