The government is expecting the food and drink industry to sign pledges to slash the calories in an average shopping basket by up to 5%, and has warned it will consider a fat tax if retailers and suppliers fail.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley this week called for mass reformulation of products, smaller portion sizes and clearer information about calorie content.
As revealed by The Grocer last week, Lansley said he wanted to slash five billion calories from the UK’s diet – the equivalent of five Olympic swimming pools full of cola per day.

“If we don’t make sufficient progress from voluntary partnerships, we will consider regulatory interventions,” he said, adding that the Responsibility Deal had already brought about change – including a reduction in salt levels and the elimination of artificial trans-fats – years earlier than could have been achieved by regulation.

“We’d prefer to achieve change without introducing extra costs to customers,” Lansley added.

The move to slash the nation’s calorie count comes as a new government report raised the recommended daily calorie intake. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition changed the recommended calorie intake from 2,550 to 2,605 per day for men, and from 1,940 to 1,991 for women – although Lansley said it would be “misleading” to suggest this meant people could eat more.

The new recommendations are actually lower than those included in the SACN’s original draft, exclusively revealed by The Grocer in 2009, which recommended a daily limit of 2,900 calories for men and 2,320 for women. However, too many people ate far more than the new guidelines, Lansley stressed.

“We are pleased to see the government taking a holistic approach,” said Terry Jones, director of communications at the FDF, which said it would work in partnership with the DH.

Andrew Opie, BRC director of food policy, added: “We are doing a lot to help, but individuals have to take responsibility for their choices and there must be recognition of the role of exercise and education.