Surely 2016 will go down as the most eventful political year yet. But we are not defined by events but by our ability to react positively.
I am so proud of the way my FDF colleagues mobilised so quickly in the wake of the EU referendum, marshalling and then setting out a clear, positive case for what the industry wants.
The challenges of Brexit are bringing the food & drink community closer together. Last week, in an unprecedented show of industry unity, over 30 food representative bodies made clear the integral role of EU workers to our ability to provide access to affordable, nutritious food and drink to the people of Britain.
Unquestionably, the rate of childhood obesity in this country remains unacceptably high. We maintain our belief that interventions shown by the evidence to present the greatest chance of being effective are the ones to be adopted. It is therefore really disappointing that the government remains committed to the soft drinks industry levy. Given the scant evidence to support its introduction, we must be reassured that the actual impact of this fiscal measure is closely measured before there is any thought of extending it.
On this point FDF stands shoulder to shoulder with the British Soft Drinks Association. We also maintain the view that voluntary action by industry can deliver quicker and more effectively for public health. Last week, the Committee on Advertising Practice introduced tough new advertising rules. Even before factoring in the new rules that ban advertising of HFSS products in media targeted at under-16s, the UK already has one of the strictest advertising codes in the world on advertising to children, with high compliance. Indeed, some companies have existing policies that prohibit HFSS ads to under-16s.
At FDF, we and our members are fully committed to being part of the solution on obesity. Our main contribution will be the innovation we deliver in our ranges. We are actively engaged with PHE in its efforts to encourage industry to reduce sugars in foods. We have maintained all along that progress will vary across companies and categories. It’s imperative that industry continues to be rewarded for its commitment. Reformulation can only progress at the speed consumers allow. Equally, we want PHE and others to help create a climate where companies are not penalised for reducing pack or portion sizes to deliver a public health benefit. As we begin to meet the limits of what is technically possible in sugar and calorie reduction, portion reduction is inevitable, indeed in some categories it’s essential.
I think 2017 may be even more tumultuous. The uncertainties of Brexit will take time to resolve and the formal triggering of Article 50 will not change much in itself. Elections in other European countries may unlock more surprises and the Great Repeal Bill will bring to the fore the issues around food safety regulations that for more than 40 years have been determined in Brussels. So hold on to your hats. But this is the most resourceful of sectors. Whatever the weather, we will prevail.
Ian Wright is director general of the Food and Drink Federation