UK Responsibility Deal: Sweet success or sleight of hand?

The UK Department of Health hails its Responsibility Deal a success in its annual update, but reports emerge that companies have failed to meet sugar and salt targets.

The UK Department of Health (DoH) pinpointed calorie reduction and alcohol pledges as two main areas of progress within the voluntary public health scheme. 

Commenting on the annual review, public health minister Jane Ellison said no business could afford to ignore the health of its customers and staff. “These returns show that by working in partnership with industry, we are making real progress towards getting the nation into healthy habits for life,” she said. 

Meanwhile in a report by UK newspaper The Telegraph, it was claimed these targets have been a game of smoke and mirrors – with companies reducing calories and salt levels in some brands, but leaving flagship products untouched. It accused Coca-Cola of reducing the amount of sugar in drinks like Sprite but leaving its best known brand unchanged. 

Responsibility pledges

Salt reduction: 82 signatories

Non use of artificial trans fat: 91 signatories

Artificial trans fat removal: 11 signatories

Calorie reduction: 37 signatories

Fruit and vegetables: 44 signatories

Front of pack nutrition labelling (implementation): 23 signatories

Front of pack nutrition labelling (communication to consumers): 17 signatories

Saturated fat reduction: 15 signatories

Salt reduction 2017: 7 signatories

In a statement issued to FoodNavigator, Coca-Cola UK said it had no plans to change its Coca-Cola drink.

Corporate cooperation 

The company said: We have no plans to change Coca-Cola.  We know that people love it and we provide two great-tasting sugar-free, no calorie options in Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero, which together comprise more than 40% of the cola we sell in the UK.”

“As part of our Responsibility Deal calorie reduction pledge we have reformulated Sprite with 30% less sugar and calories. We have also introduced a new slimline 250ml Coca-Cola can to provide our consumers with greater choice around portion size,” a UK spokesperson said.

Ellison admitted that there was still room for improvement. “Whilst it is very encouraging to see so many companies getting behind the Responsibility Deal, we know there remains more to be done. We cannot credibly tackle the major public health challenges our country faces without engaging with the companies that play such a big part in people’s lives and it is vital that momentum is maintained,” she said.

The DoH said: “From reducing calories in meals and drinks, reformulating foods to reduce salt content or putting clearer labelling on products, good progress is being made across the board.”

It gave the example of Britvic’s calorie reduction pledge, which has seen the firm shift to produce their no added sugar Fruit Shoot only in the UK. It said this would remove around 2.2 bn calories from the childrens’ drinks market.

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