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Over the past 10 years, Sustain has worked with the Food Commission and other concerned health organisations to defend the 5-a-day message from inappropriate use by the manufacturers and marketers of processed foods, to protect the health of the nation.
However, a decade on from the launch of the government's 5-a-day progamme in 2002, Sustain has started to witness a return of the 5-a-day message being used on junk foods, and on products that contain a derisory amount of fruit and vegetables.
In the UK, we spend about £54 billion per year on food and drink from supermarkets. Of this, about £12 billion is spent on products that people choose because they believe them to be healthier. This has grown by 20 per cent in less than a decade. People care about what they are eating, and they trust food labels, opting for those that carry some form of ‘health halo’. Health messages are therefore seen by the food industry as precious assets. They want more on their packs to increase sales.
In this report, we provide a potted history of challenges to the food industry that occurred during the period 2002 to 2004, in early battles with the food industry over the use of the 5-a-day message on foods high in fat, salt or sugar, involving household-name manufacturers and retailers such as Birds Eye, Campbells, Heinz, Knorr, Mars and Wall’s ice-cream.
We hope that our report will also be a salutary reminder to policy makers and health professionals that precious public health messages need to be defended by government from abuse by the food industry. We urge the Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley to re-issue and reinforce robust government guidance restricting the 5-a-day message to genuinely healthy foods, to ensure that the message retains its power to reduce the burden of heart disease and diet-related cancers that blight so many lives. If the 5-a-day message can be applied to fatty and sugary chocolate-coated biscuits, without challenge, then we have lost the credibility of one of our few defences against cancer and heart disease.