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High street bakers Greggs and Subway are among thousands of food businesses calling for the industry to fight back harder against the “demonisation” of their food by anti-UPF campaigners.

A group of trade bodies told The Grocer the controversy over ultra-processed foods had been allowed to become such a “one-sided debate”.

Last week a white paper produced by marketing and PR agency SPQR, published in The Grocer, claimed negative public sentiment towards UPFs had spiralled while there had been “no discernible pushback” form the major trade bodies.

“I find it extraordinary that our industry has been so silent on this,” said Jim Winship, director of the Pizza Pasta & Italian Food Association. 

“The reality is that so-called UPF can be found in a huge variety of products, including those used across the foodservice sector, and without them consumers would not have the choices, convenience or prices they expect nowadays.

“In fact it is also very questionable whether we would be able to feed our growing population.”

But Winship said as a result of the lack of challenge presented to the evidence used against UPF, the industry was in danger of “being walked all over”.

The British Sandwich & Food to Go Association and the Café Life Association have also called for a greater pushback. The groups together represent 2,000 food businesses across the UK, from major manufacturers and retailers, such as Greencore, Stateside Foods, Greggs, Subway and Samworths, to small independent sandwich bars and pizza delivery businesses.

In evidence submitted to the ongoing House of Lords inquiry into the impact of UPF and HFSS foods, the groups said:The demonisation of large-scale food production is completely wrong as there is no evidence to suggest that the processes themselves are in any way damaging to the health of the nation.

“Indeed, without these facilities we would struggle to feed the UK’s population. Food prices would be significantly higher which would, in turn, directly affect the health of those less well off; food wastage would rise.”

Andrew Pyne, CEO of the Federation of Bakers, added: “So far it has been a one-sided debate. The industry does need to stand up.”

Pyne said he hoped as the debate continued food companies would be able to wrestle back a fair hearing, claiming that the evidence behind the campaign against foods, including products such as sliced bread, eaten by millions every day, was suspect.

Government health experts have raised questions over the Nova classification developed by Brazilian researchers to classify which foods are UPF.

Pyne said: “There are fundamental flaws to the Nova classification. We recognise that politicians, the media and some consumers may have concerns due to the negative perception but the debate needs to be scientific and evidence-based, and industry has a role to play in the conversations with policymakers.”