The Department of Health is planning to commission an independent review into whether the Responsibility Deal is working, The Grocer can exclusively reveal.

The move comes as MPs this week called for the government to heap new regulation on food and drink companies forcing them to tackle obesity and alcohol abuse, claiming the voluntary deal was fundamentally flawed.

The Grocer has learnt that leading figures in the industry have been calling for the review, fearing the lack of an evidence base to show the effectiveness of Andrew Lansley's controversial nudging policy has left it severely exposed to criticism from the health lobby.

The DH said this week it was assessing the feasibility of an "overarching independent evaluation of the impact of some elements of the Responsibility Deal".

The Grocer understands Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, is personally heading work on how research could prove the effectiveness of measures such as a major reduction of salt in products, reformulation of food and efforts to slash the nation's calorie intake.

"We have been pushing the DH to do this," said Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC. "It's the missing piece of the jigsaw and without having a coherent strategy to provide the evidence base for the Responsibility Deal, it leaves the whole process open to criticism from opponents. This is vital if it's going to work and will also help guide companies that are making big investments into this deal about what measures actually work."

The DH's move comes as a powerful Health Select Committee panned the Responsibility Deal this week. Chaired by former health secretary, Stephen Dorrell, its report claimed the deal, launched by Lansley in March, will not work unless it is accompanied by regulation. It calls for the DH to "set out clearly how progress will be monitored and tougher regulation applied".

The report said that "partnership with commercial organisations had a place", but added that "those with a financial interest must not be allowed to set the agenda".

"The committee was unconvinced that the new Responsibility Deal will be effective in resolving issues such as obesity and alcohol abuse," it concluded.

Insiders suggested the potentially huge cost of monitoring the effectiveness of the Responsibility Deal was one of the reasons why the DH had previously shied away from such a review.

But with the government's recently-revealed Obesity Strategy facing severe criticism from the health lobby - as well as from influential figures including Jamie Oliver - Lansley needs to find evidence to justify holding out against calls for regulation, including plans for a fat tax, which prime minister David Cameron has said will be looked into.

"There is momentum behind the fat tax. It won't go way," said one leading food industry source.