Proposals to introduce a fat tax on unhealthy foods to address the UK's mounting obesity crisis have come under fire from industry figures and suppliers.
Last week, a series of articles published in medical journal the Lancet predicted that over the next 20 years there will be a 26% increase in UK obesity levels, claiming that by 2030 more than 23 million people, or 40% of the population, will be obese.
Scientists called on the government to tackle the epidemic by implementing legislation such as taxing unhealthy foods and limiting junk food advertising as well as introducing a mandatory traffic light labelling system to encourage the public to make healthier choices.
Oxford University expert Professor Klim McPherson criticised the government in England, which has been focusing on voluntary agreements with industry rather than legislation, arguing ministers shied away from taking the necessary action because they did not want to be seen acting like a nanny state. "These taxes have the effect of bringing in income, but also saving a lot of money for electors," he said.
However, public health minister Anne Milton said the government believed the best way to achieve results was through a collective voluntary effort. "We have no current plans to impose a 'fat tax', but we are working with food companies to reduce fat, sugar and salt and ensure healthier options are available," she said.
Lindsay Winser, communications controller at supplier 3663, said that tax hikes on fattier foods was a simplistic response to a complex issue. "Identifying products that are deemed 'bad for you' is not black and white," she said. "Education and awareness of nutritional facts is a more productive way to combat this issue."
Terry Jones, of the Food and Drink Federation, added that the industry had been taking positive steps. "The Lancet fails to recognise the lengths to which the UK food and drink industry has gone to help improve the health of the nation, particularly in relation to rising obesity levels," he said.
This was echoed by Tracey Rogers, managing director of Unilever Food Solutions, who said that it was shocking to see the reputation of the food and drink industry being dragged through the mud. "To criticise the industry's voluntary measures, and their effect, is wrong," she said.
"Many key players have got behind the Responsibility Deal and even Michelin-starred chefs, such as Alexis Gauthier, are recognising the significance of calorie counts to do their bit to tackle the problem. To expect a change in consumers' eating habits overnight is unrealistic."
By Kerstin Kühn
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