Banning shops from having promotional offers on unhealthy food in a bid to tackle obesity “is a bizarre and contradictory public health policy”, the Scottish Government has been told.
A crackdown on discounts for foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt, with little or no nutritional benefit, has been proposed by ministers in a bid to help improve the nation’s health.
They announced plans to restrict deals for unhealthy food, including multi-buy offers, loyalty card points, unlimited refills and food displayed at checkouts.
Food and drinks being targeted include sweets, biscuits, crisps, savoury snacks, cakes, pastries, puddings, and soft drinks with added sugar. The Government is still considering whether to include ice cream in the restrictions.
But in consultation with food and retail industries, the Government has been told there is a lack of evidence that banning in-store promotions of such foods will reduce obesity rates.
David Thomson, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland, said small businesses are “deeply concerned” about the proposals and he claimed that for one of its members, the policy would reduce sales by up to £1 million “and will likely result in major redundancies”.
Mr Thomson added: “We are deeply disappointed that the Scottish Government is pressing ahead with legislation to restrict food and drink promotions. Especially since there is no evidence of the effectiveness of these measures in tackling obesity.
“The promotion to adults of all foods is a fundamental commercial freedom. It underpins the healthy, vibrant and innovative market for food and drink that shoppers love.
“For more than 10 years the food and drink industry has risen to Scotland’s significant obesity challenge. Favourite products have been reformulated to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt. Portion sizes have been limited.
“Preventing companies from promoting reformulated, healthier options to consumers would be illogical; but that’s what the Scottish Government wants to do. This is a bizarre and contradictory public health policy.
“The Scottish Government must consider the potential impact these restrictions will have on our vital food and drink industry, which makes a significant contribution to the Scottish economy.
“Instead of punishing Scottish businesses, we urge the Scottish Government to work in partnership with the industry to make a real difference to the health of the Scottish people.”
The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) also responded and argued that retailers have taken voluntary steps to encourage consumers to make healthier choices.
Ewan MacDonald-Russell, SRC head of policy, said: “The Scottish retail industry is committed to ensuring customers can make informed choices on their diet.
“We want to work with Government to help our customers through proportionate evidence-based policies, which establish a level playing field and effectively engage with the challenge of obesity.
“However, we have some significant concerns. There is a dearth of detail over the exact definition of products, categories, and store areas.
“We also oppose proposals to limit the advertisement of temporary price promotions. We don’t believe there is evidence which shows these promotions of value encourage over-consumption, and we are not persuaded the case has been made that would be a proportionate intervention in the market.
“We urge ministers to look closely at the facts and bring forward proportional measures based on strong and specific evidence which balance the impact on stretched consumers with the need to tackle obesity.”