After last week’s threat from Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting to “steamroll” companies into action on health, it was the industry’s turn today to set out its plans.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was not food companies but the government that was being urged to get off its backside to get Brits eating healthier.

Streeting wants companies to abandon the marketing of HFSS products and put their millions behind promoting products which could help dig the UK out of a looming obesity crisis.

Today the FDF called on ministers across government to take the lead with a high-profile marketing campaign aimed at championing a more healthy lifestyle. It said companies were more than willing to get behind such a positive message, having already spent billions reformulating their products, with much more in the pipeline.

At first sight, both policies seem not a million miles apart. But anyone expecting an outbreak of harmony come the dawn of a Labour government is likely in for a rude awakening.

The FDF industry manifesto published today calls on the government to launch a “positive, practical messaging” campaign to support a healthy lifestyle, which would include major collaboration with food companies and health charities to nudge consumers towards healthier choices.

That sort of language might seem collaborative and forward-thinking to the uninitiated, but it’s enough to have the average public health campaigner choking on their reduced-sugar bran flakes.

The FDF calls on ministers to deliver a joined-up approach across government to tackle poor diets, and provide a clear and consistent public health campaign to inform and empower consumers to make healthier choices.

It also proposes a reformulation fund, similar to that already in place in Scotland, to support small and medium-sized businesses to make healthier products – although it would require substantially more funding than that involved north of the border to move the dial.

Positive health messages to change diets

Any suggestion the government should tackle obesity by encouraging healthier diets and lifestyles through consumer change will meet a furious backlash from the health lobby. It would no doubt reawaken the age-old debate on trying to “outrun a bad diet”.

There is also still much debate over the extent to which positive health messaging can achieve the sort of diet changes needed to make a real dent in obesity figures, with many, including some of the supermarkets themselves, arguing there is a need for mandatory targets to force retailers to provide healthier food.

A Labour government will be under huge pressure to go down that path, much as it would like to avoid confrontation with the food industry, as part of its policy of not rocking the boat when the Tories are doing a good enough job of sinking it already.

Labour is already increasingly showing its hand.

Following Keir Starmer’s recent pledge to revive the shelved clampdown on junk food advertising, it emerged over the weekend the government’s proposed ban on sales of energy drinks to under-16s would also be brought out of cold storage if Starmer moves his belongings into No 10.

Labour will not face too much of a fight from the industry when it comes to reviving this particular plank of public health policy, first promised by ministers in 2019, despite the huge boom in energy drink sales since then.

The truth is supermarkets have long banned sales of the drinks to kids, yet have watched as policy inaction has led to a ridiculous uneven playing field, where youngsters can simply walk to the convenience store along the road to buy one instead.

Labour’s policy on health

The recent study by researchers at Teesside and Newcastle Universities on the dangers of such drinks should have been the final straw for these sales, so it was always going to be an obvious candidate for Labour as it seeks to draw up a policy that will set its own course on health.

Yet neither Labour or health campaigners want the opposition party to be seen as too radical, or too much in favour of the “nanny state”, for fear it could yet prove a barrier to its seemingly unstoppable progress to an election victory.

So calls for a wave of taxes on HFSS products, the extension of the sugar levy to various other categories and other proposals previously set out in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy, have for now been waiting in the wings, although they will inevitably come. It’s just a matter of whether it’s before or after polling day.

At the last Labour conference, shadow health minister Preet Gill spoke of the “clear divide” between Labour and the Conservatives on public health, saying government inaction had left “the industry in limbo and children being targeted with things like Kit Kat Cereal”. Washed down with energy drinks, no doubt, although potentially not for much longer.