Anna Soubry

Health minister Anna Soubry

Researchers brought in by the government to study the effectiveness of its Responsibility Deal with the food and drink industry have found there is “little evidence” it will work better than regulation and have recommended a system of sanctions for companies who miss targets on areas such as calorie and salt reduction.

The findings, by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which was brought in by the government to conduct an independent evaluation of the Deal, will ramp up the pressure on the Department of Health to turn to regulation against food and drink companies.

The first phase of the research looked at the effectiveness of 47 voluntary agreements between government and business. It found that for them to be successful, there was a need for “robust independent monitoring” rather than the system of voluntary reporting.

“If properly implemented and monitored, voluntary agreements can be an effective policy approach, though there is little evidence on whether they are more effective than compulsory approaches,” concluded the researchers.

The report added: “Some of the most effective voluntary agreements include substantial disincentives for non-participation and sanctions for non-compliance. Many countries are moving towards these more formal approaches to voluntary agreements.”

Health minister Anna Soubry has already said she is under huge pressure from the government to look to regulate against food and drink companies unless there is wider sign up and greater progress under the Deal.

In the next stage of the evaluation, researchers will conduct individual interviews and case studies with Responsibility Deal partners and other key stakeholders.

“Evaluation and monitoring are integral to the Responsibility Deal and its partner organisations,” said the DH.

“If any partner organisations are contacted by the research team about participating in the evaluation, we would strongly encourage you to take part.”