Just one month after it came into effect, the controversial Nutrient
Profiling Model is being prepared for review by the Food Standards Agency - sparking speculation that it could be steeling itself for a u-turn.
In December, the FSA promised to review the NPM one year - "at the earliest" - from its introduction. The junk food test, which was developed for media regulator Ofcom and has been used to ban the advertising of foods deemed high in fat, salt and sugar based on a 100g serving, came into effect on 1 April this year.
However, in a letter to "interested parties" including members of the food and drink industry on the one hand and consumer health watchdogs on the other, the FSA said it would hold a meeting as early as next month to discuss how the review would be implemented.
The early movement could indicate the FSA is prepared to make changes to the NPM, which has seen cheese, All-Bran, Marmite, raisins, honey, olive oil and a number of other natural and healthy products banned from TV screens. "It's surprising it has called a meeting this early," said a senior source at a leading food manufacturer.
"There's been a lot of pressure from a lot of places, including The Grocer, and it's obviously had an impact. In going into a consultation, the FSA must be expecting there to be change."
Another added: "It's very unexpected this has happened so early. It shows the FSA is listening and is concerned about the worries raised by the model. It wants to get it right this time, but it's going to be tough given the very real differences that exist over these tools."
The Grocer's Weigh It Up! campaign, launched in January, has called for an urgent review of the Nutrient Profiling Model.
Dr Ed Komorowski, Dairy UK's technical director, said the fact the FSA was already looking at the NPM sent a positive signal it might go back to the drawing board. "We hope it is a sign the FSA accepts there are important anomalies," he said.
The Sugar Bureau also believed the FSA's early response would mean it could address some of the flaws with the NPM.
"We welcome an early start to the review of the profiling system and hope it will begin to address fundamental questions about the approach, whether it is effective in tackling the problem of obesity, and indeed whether it is focused on the right issues to begin with," said director Dr Richard Cottrell.
The FSA denied that the review process was beginning earlier than planned or
that it signalled a u-turn.
"When the board delivered the NPM to Ofcom in December 2005, it committed to reviewing, one year from the date that
the new broadcasting controls were introduced, the impact of the model on television advertising to children," said an agency spokeswoman.
The agency is now considering the appropriate scope for the review and how best to carry it out.
As a first step it will hold a meeting in June to hear the views of key stakeholders on the review's scope, remit and process. The likely timetable and information on how people could contribute would be available shortly.