As part of the White Paper, health secretary Andrew Lansley announced a new Public Health Responsibility Deal, through which it will collaborate with business and the voluntary sector. The deal, due to be launched early next year, will be spread over five networks covering food, alcohol, physical activity, health at work and behavioural change.
Although the full details of the deal will not be revealed until early next year, it is clear that the government intends to work closely with the industry to agree new reformulation targets for salt, sugar, fat and saturated fat. This has prompted headlines suggesting Lansley has caved in to the food industry.
However, Food and Drink Federation communications director Julian Hunt railed against such claims. "Some of the press coverage has been pretty wild and ill-informed, fuelled by some groups who can't bring anything positive to the table," he blasted. "All the government has done is make sure industry has a role to play alongside a great number of policymakers and health campaigners across a very broad agenda. Its nonsense to suggest we are writing that agenda or expecting an easy ride."
Hunt said that the government recognised the importance of industry in delivering tangible public health improvements.
Lansley said the Responsibility Deal was the best way of delivering change. "What I'm expecting is that the deal will allow us to make more progress more quickly. We are doing the preparatory work. It's about specifics, not just agreeing to work together," he said. "It's about identifying how we can make progress. Reformulation of salt is a very good example. I wouldn't underestimate the extent to which the industry has made progress on that. I hope we can demonstrate that through a voluntary approach we can achieve things that can't be achieved through a regulatory approach."
Lansley also confirmed that the Change4Life campaign would be expanded through initiatives such as the 'Great Swapathon', a £250m partner-funded voucher scheme to make healthy choices easier.
The government's White Paper on public health only added to the frustration of the tobacco industry this week. As expected, it mooted the idea of moving tobacco products into plain packaging. However it gave no further indication of its thinking on the tobacco display ban due to come into force next October. "The continued uncertainty on the ban is the single biggest problem for retailers at the moment," said ACS public affairs director Shane Brennan.