Hands off our 5-a-day! Healthy eating claims for fatty and sugary foods are taking the biscuit

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, 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. The report Hands off our 5-a-day! reports on misappropriation of the 5-a-day message, reacts to a Channel 4 Dispatches programme showing that a chocolate biscuit can count as half of one portion of your 5-a-day, according to the food industry, and makes recommendations for government to take back control of this precious health message.

18/07/2012
Labelling for sustainability
23pp - 2012

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Hands off our 5-a-day! Healthy eating claims for fatty, salty and sugary foods are really taking the biscuitIn July 2012, Sustain was interviewed for a Channel 4 Dispatches programme, with the television researchers showing that a chocolate-covered biscuit containing a tiny amount of fruit can count as half of one portion of your 5-a-day, according to food industry guidance for composite food products drawn up by the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD).

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.


Report contents

  • Introduction
  • The 5-a-day message: a potted history
  • 5-a-day claims start to appear on highly processed foods
  • 5-a-day claims by soup manufacturers Heinz, Campbells and Knorr
  • Concerns from enforcement officers
  • Government agrees to control 5-a-day claims for processed foods
  • Ceding public health to the food industry
  • Conclusion and recommendations
  • Appendix 1: Guidance issued in 2003 by the Food Standards Agency and LACORs, to Local Authority Enforcement Officers, on 5-a-day claims for fruit and vegetables
  • More publications on food labelling and marketing
 

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Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.