Dairy industry leaders have reacted with fury after the government released new advice urging consumers to dramatically reduce the proportion of their diet made up of foods such as cheese and milk.
The new guidance, released by Public Health England (PHE) today, follows computer modelling by its experts on how consumers can have a diet that meets government recommendations on the intake of fat, salt and sugar.
Under the new look Eatwell Plate, which has been re-named the Eatwell Guide, Brits are advised to hugely reduce the amount of dairy foods they consume as well as urging consumers to switch to eating low-fat and low-sugar alternatives.
Under the plans, dairy’s segment in the Eatwell Guide reduces from 15% under the old system to just 8%. For average women the move would mean getting a maximum of 160 calories a day from dairy products, rather than the previously advised 300 calories.
Dairy bodies questioned the science behind the plans, which they said also flew in the face of other countries’ support for dairy products and recent calls from MPs for a ‘3 a day’ scheme for dairy to be set up in the UK.
They warned it could have dangerous repercussions for the nutritional intake of breastfeeding women and their babies, as well as teenage girls.
‘Baffling and disappointing’
“The decision by Public Health England to reduce the dairy food group in the revised Eatwell Plate is both baffling and disappointing,” said Dairy UK chief executive Dr Judith Bryans.
“It goes against a series of recent public announcements and reports that show a better understanding of the role of milk and dairy products in a healthy and balanced diet by government and parliamentarians.”
Dairy UK said these included the latest Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) report on carbohydrates and human health, the recent Dairy All-Party Parliamentary Group recommendations on dairy and public health. as well as the government’s recognition of dairy products’ nutritional value through their exemption from the upcoming sugar levy.
“Looking outside our borders, a long list of countries such as France, Canada, Australia and many more have had successful 3 a day dairy consumption programmes for years, which all emphasise the importance of dairy foods,” added Bryans.
“Yet in the UK dietary guidelines disregard an ever-growing body of robust, science-based evidence that stresses the importance of dairy consumption at all ages. It is genuinely disconcerting to see the dairy food group being disadvantaged by a public health campaign.
“At a time when obesity is a real crisis for children and adults alike, nutrient-dense whole foods such as dairy products should be put front and centre in dietary guidelines.
“The dairy industry was not consulted during this process and had no opportunity to give scientific evidence or help prevent serious flaws in the guidelines. For example, we do not believe that vulnerable groups such as breastfeeding women or teenage girls can practically meet their needs for calcium or iodine using the new Eatwell Plate.
“We need to understand how PHE reached their conclusions. Therefore, we will request all documents behind this decision and we will conduct our own modelling once these documents are made available.”
PTF director general Terry Jones said: “I find it staggering that at a time when ministers are expressing their support for the sector, an executive agency of government should not only put out messaging that will encourage consumers to reduce their consumption of dairy products but also seemingly ignore the positive role that they can play in public health. While the near-halving of dairy’s contribution to the diet in Public Health England’s new Eatwell Guide represents a kick in the teeth for our beleaguered dairy industry, it’s the prominent recommendation of soya products in the Guide that really sticks the boot in.”
PHE is also including sustainability as a factor in the guide. It has commissioned a report from the Carbon Trust, which is set to call for a reduction diets that have a high the environmental impact, which includes those high in dairy.
Siân Davies, chief dairy adviser at the NFU, called the decision by PHE a “disaster for dairy” and claimed Defra sources had told her they were “shocked” at the decision and had not been consulted.
“The dairy industry has done so much to improve the healthiness of their products and this has been completely ignored by PHE, which seems to have completely ignored what Defra and MPs have been saying about the need to support the dairy industry for economic and health reasons,” she said.
PHE was also criticised for relying on a computerised system of so-called linear modelling in drawing up the plans.
“When we asked how they had got to this figure all they could say was ‘this is what the computer said’,” added Davies.
“It seems incredible that they would halve the amount for dairy, which is almost as big as the reduction being recommended for products like crisps and chocolates. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
In addition to the reduction in dairy consumption, the government’s new guidance also recommends intake from high fat, sugar and salt foods such as fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate be slashed from 8% to just 3%.T
At the same time, PHE has increased the recommended amount to come from carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and other starchy foods from 33% to 37%, and the amount advised to come from fruit and veg from 33% to 39%.