co-op lighting promotion

Ministers plan to use secondary legislation to introduce a ban on promotions of high fat, salt or sugar at checkouts, front of store and end of aisles

Food and drink industry leaders have accused the government of trying to sneak plans for a major clampdown on promotions through the back door.

The Department of Health will next month launch a 12-week consultation into its proposals to ban promotions of high fat, salt or sugar (HFSS) at checkouts, front of store and end of aisles.

However, it has emerged ministers have made clear they plan to use secondary legislation to introduce the ban. Instead of bringing primary legislation forward before parliament, they will update the existing Food Safety Act.

Food industry sources have told The Grocer such potentially massive changes, which they have warned are likely to result in a legal challenge from the industry, should go before both houses of parliament in the form of primary legislation.

Read more: Government considering HFSS promotions ban

One leading supplier source said: “The DH is making it clear that they intend to introduce a ban on promotions through the Food Safety Act.

“We are unsure why they would seek to do this as it’s not related to a food safety issue. It looks as if they are trying to bring this in via the back door.”

In the Obesity Plan Part 2, released in June, ministers put a ban on promotions at the forefront of its proposals, saying they would pass legislation to ban so-called supermarket guilt lanes and buy one get one free deals for HFSS products, both online and in stores.

But there is huge uncertainty over how far the ban on promotions will go.

The consultation is set to look at ending promotions of HFSS food and drinks “by location” and “by price promotion on volume”, which could potentially see a much more sweeping ban across stores.

The DH has also not yet explained how it would decide which products would be classed as “unhealthy”, though it has indicated it will begin by targeting those high in sugar.

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Industry sources fear many products, including the likes of bread, cheese, olive oil and bacon, could end up being swept up into the ban, alongside targets such as fizzy drinks, confectionery and crisps.

“These proposals are a potential threat to a key promotional mechanic which underpins the effective working of the free market,” added the supplier source. “We believe this needs the full scrutiny of both houses of parliament.”

A leading retail source told The Grocer: “If these proposals are approved then it could have a big impact on the freedom of the food market. With that in mind we believe there should be more scrutiny.”

As well as the consultation on promotions, the government will also hold a consultation later on in the year on its plans for an advertising clampdown on HFSS products, including a plan to introduce a 9pm watershed and changes to online regulations.

A DH spokeswoman said: “We are absolutely not going through the ‘back door’.

“All policies in the Childhood Obesity Strategy will be subject to full public consultations, giving all interested parties a chance to have their say on our proposals.”