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Food industry leaders have said they will “look closely” at the findings of a report linking ultra-processed foods to more than 30 harmful effects, including heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The FDF said it had concerns that the term ‘UPF’ was causing widespread confusion. It said it was more important for shoppers to focus on levels of consumption of fat, salt and sugar.

It comes as research published in the BMJ this week evaluated “existing meta-analyses” from almost 10 million people, in what has been billed as the largest review of its kind to date.

Leading institutions including Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US, the University of Sydney and Sorbonne University in France called for measures to protect the public from exposure to UPFs after concluding: “Overall, direct associations were found between exposure to ultra-processed foods and 32 health parameters spanning mortality, cancer, and mental, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic health outcomes.”

An FDF spokesman said: “The food and drink industry will look at this report closely and continue to follow research on this topic, not least as assessed by the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

“We also adhere strictly to Food Standards Agency law on additives and support government programmes to improve the nutritional profile of food and drink. First and foremost, it’s paramount to us that the food and drink we produce is safe, nutritious and clearly labelled.

“Like others, we are concerned by the high incidence of poor diets and obesity in the UK, and we know our industry has a role to play in helping shoppers make more balanced choices and lead healthier lives.

“However, we are concerned that the term ‘ultra-processed’ is confusing people as they try to make the right choices for themselves and their families. Our view is that it’s more important to help people to understand where they are consuming too much food that’s high in fat, salt and sugar, and not enough fruit, vegetables and fibre, rather than focusing on processing in itself.

“To that end, food and drink companies have worked hard over a number of years to adapt the recipes of our products to make them healthier and to reduce portion sizes, and we continue to do so.

“We also need to be clear as a society about the benefits of processing food and how this plays an important role in everyone’s diets. Among other things, processing ensures that a wide range of food is widely available, protects our food security, extends the shelf life of products and cuts down on food waste, and supports the convenience that so many working families need amid busy lives.“

Last year, the independent government food experts SACN found evidence linking ultra-processed foods to a range of health issues needed to be “treated with caution” and called for more rigorous studies to confirm the link.

However, UPFs have found themselves at the centre of a growing storm of controversy.

This week, research from food industry category consultants Levercliff showed a million customers a month were turning away from UPFs.

Earlier this month, a Westminster inquiry into the health threats posed by ultra-processed and HFSS foods launched a call for written evidence as it investigates links between types of food and the obesity crisis.