Health minister Anna Soubry this week ruled out the prospect of a radical government clampdown on the marketing of products high in fat, salt and sugar, and accused critics of so-called ‘guilt lanes’ at supermarket checkouts of talking “nonsense”.
In an exclusive interview with The Grocer, Soubry said the government was determined to ensure that any future health plans would be firmly evidence-based - and gave short shrift to plans drawn up by DH officials and NGOs for much tougher rules on the marketing of unhealthy foods in supermarkets.
“It’s up to us as individuals to lead healthy lives,” she said. “There’s a responsibility that the supermarkets have, but it’s important for us to take the industry with us, rather than impose things on them.”
As first revealed by The Grocer, the DH has been discussing plans for a new industry code, including a voluntary ban on multibuy promotion of food categories contributing to obesity, with retailers expected to agree to changes in stores, including getting rid of ‘guilt lanes’.
“Guilt lanes is a horrible, horrible, expression”
Soubry admitted she was not aware of these discussions, despite a report from her Responsibility Deal’s high level steering group which claimed that the move was a “high priority” for ministers.
“I haven’t actually seen that,” she said. “We talk about all sorts of things because we’re very keen to look at new challenges - but the high level steering group will talk about all manner of things.
“That’s why they meet, so that if somebody does have an idea it’s properly bounced around. That’s why I would hold back on things like that.”
Soubry, who missed the meeting of the group in June when the plan was discussed due to other parliamentary business, attacked critics of supermarkets, which have been accused of deliberately targeting children.
“Guilt lanes is a horrible, horrible, expression,” she said. “I dislike it intensely - the idea that if you treat yourself you should feel guilty. It’s absolute nonsense.
“I just said no to my children, I didn’t particularly feel pressured. I can understand that some people find it difficult, particularly when it’s aimed at children. But there’s nothing wrong with sweets.
“We just want people to put them in sensible balanced diets - and it’s not the job of government to tell supermarkets where to put their shelves.”