Food Labelling

– in the House of Lords at 8:04 pm on 5th May 2004.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour 8:04 pm, 5th May 2004

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to combat misleading food labelling and to promote healthy eating, especially in children.

My Lords, my principal purpose this evening is to draw attention to the serious health hazards of misleading food labelling—not least the avoidable chronic illnesses and preventable disabilities it can inflict on children—and the urgent need for stronger safeguards.

Noble Lords know of my interest in chronic illness and disability as the first Minister for Disabled People from 1974–79 and before then, as a Private Member, the author and promoter of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. That interest alone makes the health hazards of misleading food labelling an issue of deep concern to me. It explains, too, my work to reduce the daunting difficulties—and dangers—faced by over 2 million visually impaired people in trying to cope with labelling that totally ignores their existence.

The presence of my noble friend Lord Warner is most welcome. He was a promising young official at the then Department of Health and Social Security when I was a Minister. His duties often involved him in work on ministerial speeches. Now he makes them and I much look forward to hearing him wind up the debate with all his customary care, courtesy and social commitment.

To be fair to him—and not everyone is always fair to Ministers—he has direct ministerial responsibility only in the Department of Health, but in answering questions in your Lordships' House he must answer for the Government as a whole including—which is never easy, even for its own Ministers—the termites of the Treasury. Many departments are involved in issues that will be addressed in this debate. One is the energy imbalance that results from eating too much and exercising too little, in which the Departments for Education and Skills, and for Culture, Media and Sport—no less than the Department of Health—have an interest.

All three departments were involved in the launch last week of the Government's major new "keep fit, not fat" campaign for increased physical activity to tackle what was described as:

"the 'couch potato' culture now consuming the nation".

It was stated also that:

"physical inactivity and obesity cost the country more than £10 billion a year".

And there was a call for:

"immediate action to halt an epidemic of chronic diseases".

Yet some 200 school sports grounds have been sold off even since the Government introduced measures specifically designed to halt sales in December 1998. Ministerial consent was refused in only six cases. Thousands of playing fields have gone. London alone has lost the equivalent of seven Hyde Parks of green recreational space since 1989, while Sport England rarely uses its virtual veto over playing field sales.

That is just one reason for growing public concern about the want of a properly co-ordinated and credible response to the "keep fat, not thin" way of life that misleading food labelling now so powerfully encourages. Another reason for that concern is that, while the Chief Medical Officer rightly described childhood obesity in his annual report of 2002 as,

"a public health time-bomb", waiting to explode, its prevalence has continued to rise and the time-bomb ticks dangerously on. Meanwhile teachers and parents alike ask why the weighing and health checks that used to be a regular feature of school life no longer happen. Members of Parliament ask how it is that Finland, which in the 1980s had an obesity rate twice as high as ours, now has a rate of 11 per cent compared to Britain's 22 per cent. Religious leaders ask why policy-making so often assumes that low-income families have the same freedom as others to choose healthy eating. And people generally ask why so many policy decisions are taken ad hoc and are seemingly unrelated to an overall strategy. Are we, some ask, creating, as it were, an "ad hocracy" where policy is made on the hoof?

I have two other interests in this debate. Within days of entering the House of Commons, 40 years ago, I joined Fred Peart at the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as his Parliamentary Private Secretary and stayed with him there until, in 1968, he became Leader of the House. In those four years I learned much about food policies that still influences my thinking today. Time was, not long before then, when we had a Minister of Food with a seat in the Cabinet. Now food no longer appears even in any ministerial title and that, I fear, is one reason why proper co-ordination seems lacking.

My other interest in the debate, which I declare with pride, is that of lifelong membership of the Co-operative movement. I have held its highest elective office as President of the Co-operative Congress and chaired, in 2001–02, the Review Board that created the Co-operative Group (CWS) Limited—the world's biggest consumer co-operative. Having just read the group's annual report for 2003, I rejoice now in the many achievements of its first two full years.

Two other former Congress Presidents are here with me this evening: my good and noble friends Lord Graham and Lord Fyfe. They will be mindful, as I am, that several of our predecessors in that distinguished office also served in your Lordships' House. I think the earliest of them—his identity still surprises some noble Lords—was the Earl of Rosebery who presided over the Co-operative Congress held in Glasgow in 1890, four years before becoming Liberal Prime Minister.

I know my noble friends Lord Graham and Lord Fyfe share my admiration for the lead which our movement—notably the Co-operative Group—takes in protecting shoppers from unscrupulous food labelling. That leadership reflects a tradition of ethical trading that goes all the way back to its birth in Rochdale in 1844. It was in response to grossly unethical trading that the Co-operative movement was born. And the abuse of consumers by unscrupulous food labelling today, although far more subtle, is hardly less culpable than that perpetrated in Rochdale 160 years ago.

Among the damaging health effects of misleading consumers about the contents of the food they buy, none is more worrying than the relentless rise in the prevalence of obesity. Data from the Department of Health show that more than half of UK adults are now officially overweight or obese. In the past decade obesity has doubled. It now affects more than 15 per cent of adults, 10 per cent of 6 year-olds and 20 per cent of 15 year-olds. On average it cuts life expectancy by nine years and 50 per cent of people now obese have at least one associated health problem: heart disease, stroke, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, degenerative joint diseases and some cancers. If the current trend continues, one quarter of the population will be obese by the end of the decade.

In a recent article Sir John Krebs, who chairs the Food Standards Agency, wrote:

"The kids on their way to school at the end of my road in Oxford are eating their breakfast as they go: a can of cola, a large confectionery bar and a bag of crisps. There couldn't be a more graphic illustration of the problem with many children's diets: too much sugar, salt and fat and too many empty calories".

Children are, he says,

"bombarded with messages encouraging them to eat foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar", and, he says,

"nothing is not an option in facing the challenge this presents".

The Co-operative movement did not wait for any official prompting to act in exposing unethical and unscrupulous practices in the promotion and advertising of food. Over the past seven years—starting before the FSA existed—it has published a trilogy of reports: Lie of the Label, Lie of the Label 2 and Blackmail. Taken together they constitute the most devastating critique of deceptive and dishonest food labelling yet published.

The impact of the trilogy on informed and influential opinion testifies to its status. The first two reports won the support of the Consumers Association in Food labels, the hidden truth and in the FSA's Consumer attitudes to food standards. Their impact was further increased by NOP research and the report of a survey of the marketplace which quotes a label bearing the legend:

"80 per cent fat free crisps".

Shown the label, 61 per cent of NOP's respondents said it was a low-fat product. In fact, it was almost all fat and, when told the truth, 80 per cent said that such claims should be unlawful.

The trilogy as a whole won praise from my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, then a health Minister. He praised also the extent to which the Co-operative movement's precepts were matched by performance, as exemplified by its clear and comprehensive labelling and commitments:

"to avoid direct marketing and advertising to children of products high in fat, sugar or salt (where products contain above 20, 10 or 1.25 grams per 100 grams respectively);

"not to advertise high-fat, sugar and salt products in specific children's titles or adjacent to children's pages in newspapers;

"not to give free samples, or promote by demonstration in stores, any high-fat, sugar and salt products aimed specifically at children;

"not to use high-profile character merchandising in stores to promote high-fat, sugar and salt products aimed at children;

"not to display child-targeted products which are high in fat, sugar or salt at supermarket checkouts, where children may exert 'pester power' while queuing with parents to pay for grocery shopping;

"and clear labelling of dental health warnings on high-sugar products, such as sweets and soft drinks, across all appropriate Co-op brand goods".

All of these and other Co-operative commitments—and I am grateful to Dr Christine Humphreys of the Co-operative Group for updating me on them and for all her other help—featured in the FSA's 2003 options paper as elements that could be adopted in a code of practice for responsible promotion of food to children and parents.

For the good of child health, it is crucially important for food labelling to be clear, readily understandable and governed by effective legislation. But that is not happening now, and shoppers are left in the dark about how much fat, sugar and salt are in the products they eat and give to their children. Yet many household names among the producers of chocolate, sweets and soft drinks now hide the truth, making any meaningful attempts to achieve a balanced diet impossible.

Hiding the truth is one of seven "deadly sins" documented in the Co-operative critique of food labelling. Others are: the use of meaningless terms to enhance a product's name, such as "wholesome" and "natural"; clever photography to mislead shoppers about actual contents; over-claims such as dried pasta "free from preservatives" when none is allowed; detail of what is not in products instead of what is; and the use of poor contrast and small font, making important ingredient information hard to find and read even for people with 20:20 vision and mocking the plight of the visually impaired.

Taken together, these economies with the truth alone make a formidable case for more effective legislation. Before saying any more about sinning, however, I turn to a striking example of virtue: namely, Britain's "first" in creating the technology to Braille the packaging of retail goods. While, as we have seen, many strive hard to hide vital information from sighted people, this Co-operative achievement is now making it clearly available to people who are blind.

The new technology was recognised by many prestigious awards. It has since been shared with the industry as a whole, facilitating the application of Braille to an ever-increasing range of consumer goods. This also demonstrated that, while the development process was long, time-consuming and costly, it was not undertaken for commercial gain but rather as an expression of social responsibility and human concern.

This debate was thought likely to take place close to publication of the Government's Food and Health Action Plan, which was expected from the Department of Health last week. It has been postponed and I am sure that my noble friend will want to explain why and let us know as much as can now be said about the document. I have sought to show by detailing the widely practised dishonesties still permitted by labelling legislation that stronger legislation is urgently needed to protect consumers. While postponement of the plan's publication is extremely disappointing, at least it enables contributors to this debate to make their suggestions for what it should include, and I am sure there will be no shortage of them.

For my part, I hope most of all that the Government will be seen to have been listening to the Consumers Association, the National Consumer Council—chaired with such distinction by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for six years—and other widely respected bodies, as well as by ethical traders like the Co-operative Group which show, day by day, that it is not incompatible with commercial success. I am reminded this evening of Mark Twain's remark that,

"a lie can be half way round the world before truth has got his boots on".

I hope soon to see the Government challenging that advantage with stronger safeguards in their action plan. I know that my noble friend will do his best to sustain that hope in this debate.

Photo of Lord Graham of Edmonton Lord Graham of Edmonton Labour 8:19 pm, 5th May 2004

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Morris. He speaks from the heart, from his experience and from his roots. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Roper, in his place because he has the same kind of background as outlined by my noble friend Lord Morris. I declare an interest as a consultant to the Co-operative Group. Like my noble friend Lord Morris, I shall refer to certain events.

My noble friend Lord Morris mentioned 1844. Those who know the movement and the Rochdale pioneers will also pay tribute to the Rochdale principles. One of them was to have no adulterated goods. It took me a long time to find out what "adulterated" means. I did not believe it was a dirty word, but adulteration, watering down, giving tea and sugar something they should not have, something impure, was the bane of the working classes in times past. One of the principles on which the co-operative movement was started was to abolish adulteration.

I take the view that, in this short debate, we are taking part in a campaign to raise the awareness of the public to the dangers if we do not change our eating habits. Years ago one of the jobs that I had in the Co-operative Group was as education secretary in a society called Enfield Highway. I was very proud and very happy. That was in the early 1950s and living in Hertford was a man called Caspar Brook. He was the main inspirer for the creation of the Consumers' Association and the magazine Which?

I like to believe that I was in at the beginnings of the stirrings of the movement which still tries to alert people. One of my jobs in organising conferences and providing speakers for the Women's Guild and other organisations was to look at what was then a new-fangled idea called consumer education. Not many people did that. I had to arrange exhibitions and demonstrations concerned with meat and I arranged for the local Co-operative Group butcher to explain that one can go into a shop and be lackadaisical or one can know what to look for and what to ask for. Then the fruit and vegetable manager would talk about fruit and vegetables and their value in a diet.

My noble friend Lord Morris quite rightly paid proper attention to the work of the co-operative movement which, for a long time, was alone in pioneering such care and concern about what we ate. That is not still the case, as most of the Co-operative Group's competitors, whom I shall not mention for obvious reasons—I do not want to give them any advertising—have learned over the past 50 years that, besides taking money over the counter, there is value to a commercial organisation in paying attention to how it buys and what it sells, which is very good.

In this place I am experienced in realising and sensing that we serve a purpose. When I returned from New Zealand six years ago, I had a DVT, which I had not heard of—thrombosis. Along with the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, I spoke in a debate—the Minister was the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I am satisfied that it was as a result of my alertness and awareness that the House created a Select Committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and upon which sat such eminent people as my noble friend Lord Winston, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and others. That committee reported.

Only in the past few days I have read in the newspapers that airlines recognise that the seat pitch—the distance between the seats—which under the Warsaw convention need be only 26 inches, but traditionally was 28 inches, now has to be 31 and 32 inches. They are now voluntarily moving the seats. I notice that British Airways is being very good. In recognising those who seek to take it to court for dereliction in respect of deaths occurring from this condition it has moved some way to make matters less difficult. I make that point.

I see my noble and good friend Lord Brookman in his place. He helped to initiate me. I went to a reception on the terrace a few months ago to listen to a group I had never heard of called the Celiac gluten-free movement. I have a store of other experiences. I think the lady was from Wolverhampton. She told me about the blight on her life borne out of a condition over which she literally had no control and of her need to be careful. She taught me a little more about reading labels. That is what the debate is about.

I have made a list of other groups that I have attended besides the groups in the House for DVT, diabetes, prostate, dystrophy and heart. I attend them all because I have conditions from which I suffer, survive and manage within the context of them all. The point I want to make is that as we grow older and become more susceptible to the onset of serious conditions we need to be very careful about what we eat.

I am very pleased that my noble friend has raised this issue, which allows us to say a few words in support. I think the establishment of the Food Standards Agency was a beacon in this respect. I do not claim credit for party or for organisation. There has been a gradual movement and recognition over the years. Certainly, more and more people recognise that one can very easily make a wrong purchase when one goes to the supermarket or to the market.

One phenomenon these days is to walk down the street and find that everyone seems to have a sore ear. What they are doing is listening to their mobiles. When one goes into a supermarket one finds a lot of people not simply grabbing stuff off the shelves but actually looking at the labels. From the information I have read, I am very taken by the fact that there are the big four and then there are the little four. The big four, as far as content is concerned, is information relating to energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat. One needs to understand what the ingredients are and to be able to read them. The others are sugars, saturates, fibre and sodium.

Very often one finds that manufacturers in a misleading way give on a label only the big four and not the little four. They pick and choose. The discerning shopper is the person who is prepared to spend a little time and sometimes perhaps a little money.

When I went to my diabetic clinic and saw the dietician, she drew my attention to a fact. She asked, "Do you like marmalade?" I said, "Yes, I like marmalade". She asked, "What kind do you have?" Of course I said, "The Co-op's if I can get it". She said, "Well, you know marmalade is made especially for diabetics". I did not know that. I was glad I was told. Therefore, even if sometimes I do not eat it, I know that it is there.

I have another illustration. My family has always drunk evaporated milk. It is a tradition. Evaporated milk is very heavy on fat, but most manufacturers have light evaporated milk or an evaporated milk that has been produced in such a way that the difficult contents are marginally reduced.

There is a lot of advice about. I am of course delighted at the part that the co-operative movement has played and is playing in these matters. No one will achieve a breakthrough. The figures that my noble friend Lord Morris gave for obesity are compelling and real. No one has an interest in maintaining that—even the people who produce the products, such as crisps, fizzy drinks and so on. They do not have an interest in watching the purchasers of their goods die earlier than they need. It needs a concerted campaign.

I know that the Government—as well as many others; but I talk about this Government, of whom I am proud to be a part—have a responsibility to support both agencies and organisations whose job it is to make people alert and aware. Here endeth the first lesson.

Photo of Lord Fyfe of Fairfield Lord Fyfe of Fairfield Labour 8:31 pm, 5th May 2004

My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester on initiating this debate on this vital subject. Before it escapes my mind, my noble friend Lord Graham referred to diabetic marmalade and diabetic foods in general. I have the misfortune to suffer from that disease, and that specific diabetic food is not recommended, because it can have a devastating impact on some parts of the anatomy. Only some suffer from that: my noble friend Lord Graham obviously does not.

I was chairman of the Co-operative Group and its predecessor, the Co-operative Wholesale Society, for about 11 years. Clearly, anything that I have to say in my brief comments this evening will focus on the co-operative movement's involvement in healthy food and eating of recommended diets.

I suggest that there are three key ways in which retail activities can support broader nutritional strategies and therefore encourage activity to address obesity. Those include the formulation of own brands—especially, in this case, Co-op brand products—and how those products are marketed. That is a broad area that may encourage proper product labelling, merchandising and advertising. In addition, the Co-op's role within communities enables supportive nutritional education via stores in the form of labelling, leaflets and websites in the various communities within which we operate. Clearly, education has a major part to play by providing information on the website, in pamphlets and leaflets in stores and by other means of communication.

My noble friends Lord Morris and Lord Graham referred to the dangers, and I shall not elaborate on them, except by stating that obesity contributes to a number of life-threatening diseases. Indeed, diabetes is now being diagnosed in many adolescents, with a devastating impact on the remainder of their lives. So it has an impact at an early stage that endures for a considerable time—indeed, until their demise.

In 1995, the Co-operative movement challenged its suppliers to reduce the amount of fat and salt in its own-brand products to help to achieve nutritional taskforce targets. Progressively, that has reduced levels of both in a range of products, with that work continuing. But it is difficult for a single retailer to make an impact because products are geared to maximum production, as I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, and producing one-off products for a specific retailer often does not make sense for a major manufacturer.

In addition to its standard range, the Co-op provides a wide range of healthier alternative products. The clear, distinctive logo helps consumers to choose healthier alternatives. Strict nutritional criteria apply to those products, supported by on-pack claims. A maximum of 3 per cent fat applies to all ready-made meals in the range.

There is still a long way to go on honest labelling. There is a clear need for comprehensive and well-presented labelling that sets the standard for the industry. Calorie and salt content are indicated on the front of all Co-op brand label products. No other retailer does that at present. However, I am confident that the experience of the Co-operative movement will help to encourage other retailers to follow that path. Products are described as having high, medium or low fat content, but that can be extremely confusing. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to that fact. What precisely is low fat? In some extreme cases, it could mean around 50 per cent fat content.

The Co-op has highlighted dietary issues through public campaigns, identifying sources of poor diet and opportunities for improvement. Our 1997 report, The Plate of the Nation, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, raised the nature of diet generally and intensified debate on the topic. That was followed by The Lie of the Label, which addressed a range of labelling activities that might hinder consumer appreciation of the nature, composition and nutritional make-up of products. It also identified clear approaches to support positive steps that provide clear consumer information on labels, helping them to make informed choices that support their dietary needs. The expression "informed choices" is important, as it highlights the deficiency of proper, honest and simple advice on food content. Let us be straightforward: it is sensible, not patronising, to say that that often applies, perhaps to a harassed housewife with several children, operating on a budget and with neither the time, energy nor sometimes the inclination to understand food labels.

In 2002, we advocated a bolder route to the provision of such information through labelling, following consumer research into the value that they gained from nutrition information on many different types of pack and different brands. As outlined in The Lie of the Label II, that identifies potential opportunities for development of labelling formats that would provide greater clarity of information for consumers, therefore supporting improved access to a more balanced diet.

The Co-op Group has recently acquired the convenience store chain Alldays, adding 600 stores to its portfolio—a good acquisition. We found that Alldays concentrated on newspapers, tobacco, cigarettes and a high proportion of foods that could not be regarded as particularly healthy. It is a mammoth task to convert those stores into ones that have some consideration for dietary points. We actively support the Department of Health initiative to encourage people to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. One might say that that is common sense, but there are still substantial depths of ignorance about food.

When I reread what I had typed out this afternoon, frankly some of it sounded a bit holier than thou. I would not want it to be interpreted as being holier than thou. I do not want to sound in the least sanctimonious or self-righteous when I talk about the Co-operative Group's initiatives in this field. They contribute greatly to the nation's health and to its economy. Neither do I want to see us become a nanny state and adopt attitudes such as, "the man in Whitehall knows best". We do not need to attack that philosophy, because it does not exist. I hope that it never does exist, but we could attack it through better information and education.

I am of a sedentary disposition, despite in my younger days playing a respectable game of golf and an average game of squash. My noble friend Lord Morris referred to the importance of exercise, and I was going to refer also to the disposal of a number of playing fields over the past few years, which is really depressing news. All kinds of sport, individual sports and team sports, should be encouraged so it should be a dual attack on bad health, based on good exercise and a sensible diet.

Finally, on a domestic point, our catering facilities in this House might well be reviewed from time to time to try to ensure that they encourage your Lordships to have a healthy diet.

Photo of Lord Brookman Lord Brookman Labour 8:42 pm, 5th May 2004

My Lords, I beg leave to speak in the gap. This is another occasion when the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester. The effort that he puts into what I call worthy causes is remarkable. If this had been a football match—we were talking about sport a moment ago—the score at half time would be the Co-op four, Sainsbury's and the others nil. It looks that way so far.

I declare two interests. I am, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said, co-chair of the newly formed all-party coeliac group, which works closely with Coeliac UK, and I am pleased to be doing that. Like the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I knew nothing about this disease—it is called a disease—until it struck home, so to speak. Then I took an interest. I have a grandson who is on a dairy-free diet, and that is common across the country these days. In our family, food and healthy eating is a keen subject.

I will concentrate on coeliac disease. This disease is one of the most common chronic, childhood diseases, unknown to many of the public, with a prevalence of one in 100. There are studies showing that. Coeliac disease is life-long, and therefore affects one in every 100 adults. I am beginning to improve my knowledge of the subject. This disease is caused by allergies to wheat, barley and rye. Some have a problem with oats. Remaining on a gluten-free diet is the only way that they can survive and continue a normal life.

There must be many thousands of sufferers of this disease in the country who are unaware of it. The symptoms are weight loss, diarrhoea and, in the case of children, failure to thrive with consequential poor growth. I am here this evening because I want to see the clear listing of all ingredients on food labels, as it is of vital importance. It is necessary that any gluten-containing ingredients are clearly identified to consumers. There has been some improvement, and the Minister may refer to that. More needs to be done, so that people are aware of what they buy. Shopping can be difficult.

Enforcement of the European Directive 2003/89/EC on allergen labelling in foods is imperative. We need the adoption of that safe, realistic standard for gluten-free products, as we do across a wide range of products, which can be enforced by UK enforcement officials.

Finally, there is, in my view, a need for more research and awareness. I hope that the Minister will address that. More serious research and awareness would assist in what we are debating today. We need better, more effective and more informative labelling that, in the long run, would be of enormous benefit to our society and the people of this country.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench 8:45 pm, 5th May 2004

My Lords, I, too, beg leave to speak in the gap. My reason for speaking briefly in the debate is because on my way to your Lordships' House my taxi driver asked me what was going on here today. I told him about this debate. He told me that one of his children has a serious allergy to nuts. It is so serious that the parents have to carry two syringes of adrenaline in case their boy becomes seriously ill.

My taxi driver told me that there should be a national campaign to make children, restaurants, hotels, food manufacturers, schools and everyone aware of the dangers of serious allergies, which can be life-threatening. Not enough is written on menus in restaurants and in food shops about food and sweets that are free from, for example, nuts and wheat germ. Far more research should be carried out. Supermarkets should promote healthy, clean food and drink. Can the Minister tell the House whether it is a fact that some children who have food allergies have a deficient gene?

I have a diabetic husband. Diabetes should be avoided at all costs. It causes numerous complications. But the worrying situation is that diabetes is on the increase. It is a serious problem, particularly among the Asian population. I congratulate the Government on trying to promote fruit in schools. More healthy, well-labelled food and drink should be available that is suitable for diabetics and others, including in your Lordships' Dining Room.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Shadow Minister, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 8:47 pm, 5th May 2004

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for raising this issue again in your Lordships' House. He is certainly an example of a campaigner. He has raised this issue time and again. But I wonder whether by now he feels a sense of frustration at the lack of progress in this area.

Certainly, on looking back at the debates in your Lordships' House in 2002 and 2003 in which I have taken part, we have said many of the same things that have been said today: I wonder whether the Minister's response will be similar. If I had had a wish, it might have been that the question posed to Her Majesty's Government asked what steps they have taken to combat misleading food labelling, to which I shall address the substance of my speech.

First, I turn to a few points made by other speakers. I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, about the social divide between lower-income families and those that are better off. Perhaps it is clearest when walking down a street with delicatessens, greengrocers, cheese shops and butchers. One knows that one is in a high-income area. I think that a low-income area is known now, colloquially, as a "food desert". There are almost no shops. That can be equally true in rural areas where shops in garages prevail, for which we are thankful. But those shops sell mostly ready meals, confectionery and fresh milk: other fresh food is not available. In many low-income urban areas, we face the same problems. There are no shops that sell fresh food anymore, which is a matter that needs urgently to be addressed. Food planning is not only a matter for the Department of Health but also for the ODPM when it issues planning guidance.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, also mentioned Sir John Krebs's comments on children's breakfasts and what children were eating as they passed the end of his street. I agree that children's breakfasts, or lack of them, is a matter of concern and I praise those schools which have introduced breakfast clubs. This has proved to be a worthwhile initiative.

Yesterday, in your Lordships' House, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, hosted a worthwhile meeting with representatives of the Food Standards Agency and I was able to raise with them the issue of local initiatives and their funding. I consider breakfasts clubs in schools to be an initiative which is key to introducing children to good eating habits.

In reply to my question about the funding of local initiatives, the deputy chairman of the Food Standards Agency, Julia Unwin, said that it was at a lamentably low level. If such local initiatives prove worth while but need support, can the Minister say from which pot of money they will receive funding after the one or two years in which they may receive pilot funding? Many initiatives receive pilot funding but, even if they prove extremely worth while, it is difficult to continue with them—and changing the eating habits of children will take a lot longer than a year or two.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that the establishment of the Food Standards Agency has been a beacon, but I am not sure whether it has succeeded as well as it would wish to on the issue of labelling. I have looked at its website in this regard and I think what I found there bears repeating to your Lordships. Its website asks:

"What do labels tell me?"

The reply is:

"Labels are there to tell you what you are buying".

There is no differentiation in the mind of the Food Standards Agency—nor, as far as I can see, in anyone else's—between the packaging on the food which contains the whole marketing message and the nutritional panel, which is what I believe the Food Standards Agency means.

The website goes on to say:

"The law says the name of a product must not be misleading".

That is not the case because we know that the description "chicken pie", for example, is deeply misleading when it contains only 10 or 15 per cent chicken. If you called it "Gloop-pie with a little chicken in it", that would not be misleading. So the Food Standards Agency needs to tighten up its definition of "label". The agency refers to the nutrition panel whereas the public believe that "label" means the entirety of what they see on the food packaging.

The agency then goes on to ask:

"What should I look for on labels?".

Its reply is:

"Value for money. As well as comparing pack weights, you can use the ingredient list to choose which product you want from the points of view of health, taste and cost".

I do not believe that that is at all the case. I certainly cannot tell from the label what the taste of a product will be like. I agree that cost is clearly indicated in all shops; it is required to be so by law. But the main point is whether the label gives me a good guide to health. No, it does not; it is too complicated. I believe that all noble Lords who have spoken tonight will agree with that. This is an area in which I hope the Minister will be able to give some assurance that a much simpler scheme will be introduced.

Some people have spoken of a red, yellow and green traffic light system, where red is a warning that a food contains high salt, high sugar or high fat levels; yellow is a warning that the food contains a medium level of such ingredients but that if you add it to other food it may result in higher levels in your diet; and green indicates a food that you can eat as much as you like of without any worries.

Under the sub-heading "Freedom of choice", the website says:

"Labels allow you to buy things you like or avoid things you shouldn't eat".

No they do not. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brookman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, for the points they made.

My husband is a coeliac, so I can appreciate the problems the noble Lord highlighted. Although a food product will occasionally be labelled as gluten-free, gluten turns up in the most unexpected places. It turns up in mustard, for instance; often labels do not say so, but mustard can contain wheat. Perhaps more insidious is that when coeliacs are stuck for something to eat, they may turn to chips; they think that as they are made from potatoes, they are a very safe food. However, it is not widely known that many chips are actually coated in flour, which causes coeliacs endless difficulties. So we need labelling to be much more accurate.

Defensive labelling, which says, "This product may contain nuts", is no help to anybody—people need to know whether a product contains nuts or not. The Government urgently need to address labelling which is simply there to avoid prosecution rather than giving information.

In 2003, the National Consumer Council published the extremely good Bamboozled, Baffled and Bombarded—consumers' views on voluntary food labelling. Since its publication, which contained many good recommendations of which I am sure the Minister is aware, what progress have the Government made in implementing those recommendations?

The consumer perspective highlighted by the publication is to do with consumer confusion. It defined, very usefully, the different purposes that food packaging serves at present. It serves to offer advice, guidance, claims, data, logo, a brand name, marketing messages, and so on. We need a much clearer definition of what is expected of the food industry when we talk about labelling. We must define the difference between labelling and nutritional information. Nutritional information is divided into two: a short list, which gives the energy, protein, carbohydrates and fats contained in a product, and a long list, which gives the sugar, saturated fats, fibre and sodium content.

I think that all the requirements in law about labelling on the nutritional panel is now done at an EU level. Part of the Government's job is to lobby at that level for the changes that have been found to be necessary. Of course, the UK is not alone in finding these difficulties. Levels of obesity are rising right across the European Union, so it will need European Union action. It will also need action at a national level. Perhaps there should be a code, such as Defra has for green claims that are false, for inaccurate claims about food.

The Food Standards Agency survey in March this year found that as well as being misled about ingredients, consumers are being misled about terms such as "fresh", "pure", "natural", "traditional", "original", "authentic", "home-made" and "farmhouse". We are well aware of those sorts of terms. They are on almost every product. They make one feel warm and cosy. They do no one a service. Usually, they are covering up food that is far from those things. The most natural, fresh and traditional foods are those that arrive in their prime state and need very little labelling because they are most clearly a sack of potatoes, a chicken or a bag of Brussels sprouts. However, once those have been processed, the division becomes blurred.

In the final minute of my speech, I wish to deal with children's eating habits, which the Government can change only through education, education, education. The topic needs to be back on the curriculum in a big way. School meals must be dealt with and health professionals such as GPs and district nurses should be taught about diets at a fundamental level. The issue of diet is vital for the health of our future generation. I would appreciate it if the Minister would tell us what the Government are doing to educate the future generation.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Conservative 9:01 pm, 5th May 2004

My Lords, the House will not only be grateful, it will be delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, has returned to a theme that has, as he reminded us, come up from time to time throughout his long and distinguished political career. Most of us knew him in another place as the first Minister of the Disabled, a title that now—alas—has become politically incorrect. These days we have Ministers for disabled people and I learnt very early on in my career at the now defunct DHSS that the disabled are people first and disabled second.

Having—to mix my metaphors—got that red herring off my chest, I recall that the subject of nutrition interested the noble Lord long before he came to your Lordships' House. I agree with almost everything he said, but I cannot agree with either him or the noble Lord, Lord Brookman, that legislation will be of much use, at least in the immediate future. I will come to that point in a minute. I assume that because bad nutrition leads to obesity the noble Lord instigated a short debate on the subject on 8 January last year. Alas, he was unable to take part in a more specific debate on obesity introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in October. However, I suppose that I must say that honours are even on that score because the noble Baroness is not in her place today.

Among a mass of interesting information, the noble Baroness told us that, in the United Kingdom, obesity has trebled in the past 20 years. Perhaps more relevant to today's debate, she said that more than 10 per cent of 10 year-olds and more than 17 per cent of 15 year-olds are obese. Obesity is defined as when the body mass index—weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared—is more than 30 grams per metre squared. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, did not dispute either of those facts. Neither did he say that the body mass index is little understood by anyone outside the medical profession. Even they, I note from yesterday's Evening Standard, are beginning to argue among themselves about whether it is the shape rather than the bulk of the body that causes the problems.

In both debates the conclusion was that increasing obesity, leading as the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe, reminded us, to massive increases in the incidence of diabetes, coronary disease and stroke, is a time bomb waiting to explode.

The noble Lord, Lord Warner, hoped to convince me on the last occasion that the Government had a strategy to deal with the problem. I am afraid that he failed. What he called a strategy, I would have to call some modest although hopefully effective tinkering round the edges. His noble friend Lord Morris called it "adhocracy". It included the cross-government food and health action plan. The thinking on that is so advanced that only tomorrow is the Secretary of State to launch it department-wide. Considering that the Chief Medical Officer raised the problem of obesity again last year, that we have known about it for at least five years and that the Government have been seven years in office, even the Prime Minister can hardly call that "speedy progress".

Another part of the strategy is the cross-government activity co-ordination team. The current manifestation of this is the "Summer of Sport" campaign led by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, and welcomed by the Secretary of State for Health. It is all very fine and dandy until one realises that of the £750 million commitment of lottery funds to school and community sport, only £8.5 million has been spent to date.

Noble Lords have commented on the amount of time children spend on sport. The Government's much vaunted two hours a week of in-school sport is still not universal, I am told. In any case, even if it were available in all schools, is two hours enough? Sweden, with a much lower average body mass index than ours, offers 10 hours. Is that not what we too should be aiming for?

A salt reduction plan for processed food manufacturers was highlighted by the Minister in the debate tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Granted, high levels do untold damage to arteries in particular, but what exactly has that to do with obesity? As has been pointed out by all speakers today, of much more relevance is the amount of sugar and fat, but they were to be tackled second. Why? Do the Government have a pecking order of government health priorities? If so, can we be let into the secret as to what principles set it?

This brings me on to food labelling, currently controlled by the Food Labelling Regulations 1996. Although I am a strong believer, and by it a financially rewarded believer, in the single market, it is noticeable that they were allowed by the European Union only because the Commission had no plans at that time to produce a directive on the subject. Now it has started the legislative process, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said. Unfortunately, since it has started, we cannot change our own legislation unilaterally. It is, quite simply, illegal. All the good ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and other noble Lords are thwarted unless the Government can get a voluntary agreement from the processed food industry.

Even then, it could cover only home produced or—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe—home packaged or own-label food. No doubt the Minister will claim that the Government have made great strides in persuading the Commission of what is needed. I hope that he will be able to tell us the outcome of what is currently in the draft directive—which has come to a temporary, I hope, grinding halt because the European Parliament cannot discuss it until after the elections next month. Will the Government use their good offices to make sure that it finds a high place on the newly elected parliament's agenda?

Much as I approve, there could be a problem even with this legislation. America, as the Minister knows, has the strictest food labelling in the world. It also has the highest rate of obesity. Can anyone tell me why? I have asked all over the place for this information but no one seems to be able to produce the answer. Perhaps the Minister, with the resources at his command, can do so. He indicates not and I am not in the least surprised. Perhaps not tonight but at some time.

My particular bugbear is fat content. Many processed foods now state "90 per cent fat free". How wonderful. Claims like that should be banned. They are, in essence, stating a negative. What they should state is, "Contains 10 per cent fat". That would be much more useful to the consumer. Still, it is a heck of a lot when you consider that fat, whatever it is, will inevitably be only part of an individual's diet. It is the total diet, unmatched by physical activity, that leads to obesity at any age. Bluntly, if calories in equal calories out, there is no problem. More and more people are not using up calories, so more and more people are becoming obese. It is calories that count, not the amount of food. Going to school on a bowl of porridge is far better for your children than going to school on a Mars bar—sugar being just as damaging as fat.

When I am in London I live near a large comprehensive school surrounded by an absolute plethora of corner shops where I buy my newspaper in the morning. I have observed over the years how much their takings are increased in term time by children buying fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate bars. As an admitted chocoholic myself I can sympathise with these children. However, how can a responsible parent possibly control a child's intake of calories when they do not know what their children are eating away from home? I cannot imagine that the only solution that I can come up with—reducing their pocket money—would do much for family relations.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, what about schools? Are they teaching responsible food consumption in the same way as children have sex lessons? I doubt it, but I have no doubt that the Minister will correct me in his usual way if I am wrong.

Your Lordships may have been surprised by my mention of sex lessons in a debate such as this—as I have to say I was by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, on nuts, and indeed by the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I believe that on this the food industry can be congratulated. The most amazing products say, "may contain nuts". "May" contain nuts is a far better warning if one is allergic to nuts than "does" or "does not". Sooner or later something will slip in—an oil will have been used previously in cooking and the pan will not have been washed out properly—and the nuts will arrive in the wrong food. So I totally disagree with the noble Baroness; I praise the food industry for saying "may contain nuts".

However, back to sex—there is a logic. It seems to me that we have a very good template in how to tackle obesity in children. I became a junior health Minister in the mid-1980s, just after my noble friend Lord Fowler had devised a strategy for combating AIDS. Your Lordships will remember that exactly the same sort of warnings about sexually transmitted diseases were given then as there are about obesity today. Three things were done. First, an enormous amount was spent on public sector broadcasting. Secondly, sex lessons in schools were given an impetus to cover the subject. Thirdly, the private sector became involved. Your Lordships will remember that Richard Branson developed Mates condoms and the Government made sure that mention of condoms became acceptable. The net result was a gradual decline in the incidence of AIDS.

There is no reason why the same should not happen now: nutrition lessons in schools for every child regardless of sex; physical training—or PE, as I believe it is now called—as well as games in school, whether in an indoor playing area or on the playing fields, which, alas, as noble Lords have said, are declining, especially in our state schools; a greatly increased amount of public sector broadcasting on the subject; and, lastly, the involvement of the private sector.

I heard the other day of a local authority that had issued all the children in school with pedometers. Locals said it was throwing bad money after good. Not so. The whingers did not take account of the fact that children are distinctly competitive animals. "I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours" took on a totally new meaning. The children started walking, jumping, skipping and playing games. The point is that today's school children are tomorrow's workforce. Cannot local firms be persuaded to adopt local schools and give the children pedometers?

These three things need drive and persuasion and someone must be in charge. Ministers have too many other things to do, as indeed does the Chief Medical Officer and his staff. The Government believe in health tsars—but they are isolated in the Department of Health. My party has a policy of having an interdepartmental equivalent, not just for obesity but for public health as a whole. We call him or her the public health commissioner. There is not even a smell of a similar idea from the Government; perhaps there will be tonight.

The Opposition cannot compel the Government to do anything. Their Back-Benchers are arguably in a slightly stronger position, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, pointed out—especially so when, as there have been tonight, there are four of them prodding the Minister from all sides and behind. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, by securing tonight's debate, is doing this country and his own Government a service. If only they would sit up and take notice. If they will not, my advice to him and to other noble Lords opposite is for goodness' sake to keep on prodding, because I am happy to join them any day of the week.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 9:15 pm, 5th May 2004

My lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising the issue of misleading food labelling and what we might do to promote healthy eating, especially in children. It gives me the opportunity to outline the considerable programme of work that the Government have engaged in. I shall have to bear with fortitude the fact that I shall never satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I shall resist the temptation to enter into the area of sex or the US Government's responsibilities in relation to obesity in their country.

I should begin by emphasising that consumers have the right to clear and accurate food labels. That is the basis of the Government's labelling policy and is becoming increasingly important in today's changing world. The range of products on the supermarket shelves is expanding, while the time we spend choosing what to buy is decreasing. I would agree with a number of remarks made by my noble friends that the Co-operative Group has a history of leading the retail industry in terms of food labelling. I am more than happy to recognise its progressive approach in providing vital information to consumers.

Food labels can help us to make informed decisions about the food we eat, particularly in relation to a healthy diet. However, they can help consumers only if the information is provided in a way which the consumer can easily understand, which is not confusing and, above all, not misleading. To help ensure that consumers have access to the labelling information they need, the Food Standards Agency has in place a wide-ranging food labelling action plan, which picks up many of the recommendation of the Consumers' Association report mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer. The plan comprises a mixture of regulatory and voluntary initiatives to tackle the issues that consumers have identified as priorities.

Among the agency's main achievements have been to secure an extension to the European rules on ingredient listing, which will require more detailed information on the content of packaged foods. The new rules will ensure, for example, that the presence of allergens is more clearly indicated. The new legislation on improved labelling of allergens includes nuts and nut products in foods. It will come into force in November 2004 and will make compulsory the breakdown of compound ingredients. The agency has an extensive research programme on allergens and is currently planning a campaign to improve the provision of allergen information in catering establishments.

I cannot answer the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, on the relationship between nut allergies and gene deficiencies, but I shall look into it and write to her.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the Food Standards Agency has also published a range of best practice advice to promote labelling transparency. That includes advice on the use of terms such as "fresh", "traditional", "home-made" and so on, as well as advice on country-of-origin labelling. The agency is also in the process of consolidating the UK food labelling regulations to take account of the many national and European changes that have taken place since they were put in place.

We recognise that food labelling has a role to play in enabling consumers to make healthier choices. Currently nutrition labelling on foods is mandatory only when a nutrition claim such as low fat is made. However, according to Food Standards Agency research, more than 90 per cent of consumers think it important to have nutritional information on food products. The Government therefore recommend that such information be provided and, in practice, most pre-packaged foods carry at least some nutrition information because manufacturers choose to make voluntary declarations.

A proposal to amend the current legislation is expected soon. In a discussion paper, the European Commission suggests compulsory nutrition labelling on all pre-packaged foods, to include levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in the product. Certainly, research by the Food Standards Agency has shown that many consumers find that the current format is difficult to use and that a nutrition labelling format showing the content of a nutrient as high, medium, or low would be welcomed by consumers and help them to make healthier choices.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and other noble Lords raised the issue of why action has been taken on salt reduction, in advance of other substances—I correct myself, I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who asked the question. Action on salt reduction was taken as a priority following action by the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health following publication of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition's Salt and Health report in May 2003. That confirmed the strengthening of evidence for action to reduce adult salt intake and for the first time recommended reduced intake levels for children.

It has been suggested that signposting on products, such as a traffic light system, would help consumers quickly identify those foods which are high in fat, salt or sugar and those which are healthier choices. The Food Standards Agency believes that such signposting could be useful and is planning to fund research in this area.

Nutrition and health claims are increasingly common on foods, reflecting the growing public recognition of the importance of the diet to overall health. At present, the general requirements of UK food law, laid down by the Food Safety Act 1990, prohibit misleading claims. However a proposal to regulate nutrition and health claims more closely is currently being discussed in Europe. Simple rules will be set for nutrition claims such as low fat and reduced salt with specific criteria laid down for when these terms can be used. This would see an end to the labelling of products as, for example, 90 per cent fat-free. This type of labelling can mislead by implying that a product is low fat when it is not, as my noble friend Lord Morris pointed out.

For health claims the basic proposal is that these would be allowed following an independent assessment of the supporting evidence by the European Food Safety Authority. Hence if a label said that the product helps maintain a healthy heart then the consumer could have confidence that such a claim is true.

A concern with the use of both nutrition and health claims is the potential to mislead the consumer or undermine healthy eating advice. Such claims emphasise the positive aspects of a food, yet often there may be a negative side that is given less emphasis. For example, a low fat claim on a product high in salt may proclaim only the fat content. The new proposal aims to deal with this by introducing the concept of nutrition profiling where the underlying principle is that claims should not be allowed on products containing defined levels of fat, salt or sugar.

Of course, there are many more aspects to healthy eating than food labelling, and the Government have a wide range of initiatives aimed at promoting healthy eating and increasing the physical activity levels of the population. The prevention of obesity is integral to our public health activities because, as a number of noble Lords have said, obesity has trebled in England in the past 20 years with one in five adults now obese; that is almost 8 million people. Children deserve special attention, as a number of noble Lords have said, because obesity is a problem that requires prevention in childhood. The 2002 health survey for England, quoted by the Chief Medical Officer in his most recent annual report, found that 16 per cent of children were already obese, and that almost a third were either overweight or obese.

The prevention and management of obesity is at the heart of many of the Government's priority areas. The National Service Frameworks outlining action on coronary heart disease and diabetes emphasise preventing and reducing obesity as a key intervention to reduce the overall prevalence of diabetes. Long term prevention is the best course of action, especially in children. The forthcoming National Service Framework for Children will also be addressing obesity as a priority for children's health.

There is a range of actions under way to improve diet and physical activity. I refer to the promotion of breastfeeding and encouraging more women to breastfeed and to continue for at least six months. Breastfeeding in England and Wales increased from 68 per cent in 1995 to 71 per cent in 2000 and there was a significant increase of 9 percentage points in lower social classes.

The new welfare food scheme provides milk and free vitamins to 800,000 low-income families. The reformed scheme will ensure that children in poverty have access to a healthy diet helping them to buy a range of foods, including milk, infant formula, fresh fruit and vegetables. The "five a day" programme, including the national school fruit scheme, aims to increase access to and consumption of fruit and vegetables. Local five a day pilot initiatives were found to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables among the lowest consumers by about one portion a day. A five a day logo has been developed as part of the communications programme to help people recognise the five a day message and introduce consistency in the message in all settings.

In addition, the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Education and Skills are working together to provide information on diet and nutrition to school children through a number of school based initiatives. This work includes: the funding of a cooking bus that visits schools to promote practical skills among children and their teachers; projects to identify the food-related skills for 14 to 16 year-olds to be covered by the curriculum; showing how schools can operate healthier vending machines that are economically viable; and providing free fruit in schools.

The Department of Health strand of the Government's food in schools programme is made up of eight pilot projects which follow the child through the school day—healthier breakfast clubs, tuck shops, vending machines, lunch boxes and cookery clubs, as well as water provision, growing clubs and the dining room environment. These are outside of, but complement, the formal curriculum.

The Food Standards Agency's activities in this area include leading the cross-government consideration of minimum food and nutrition knowledge and skills of young people, working with the Department for Education and Skills on monitoring school meals standards; and piloting healthier drinks vending in schools.

Central government initiatives demonstrate and test innovation but, when the ideas are provided, I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that putting them into effect is largely down to the local ownership and responsibility of the local agencies.

The Food Standards Agency also encourages the provision of healthier options when eating out—this is important as this sector is increasing—by, for example, contributing to the training of caterers in key nutrition messages.

The Food Standards Agency has also recently been considering the issue of the many ways in which foods are promoted to children. To inform its work on this issue, the agency commissioned a systematic review of the evidence on food promotions and children's diet, carried out by Professor Gerard Hastings from Strathclyde University. The review concludes that advertising to children does have an effect on their preferences, purchasing behaviour and consumption, and that the influence on children's choices is apparent not only between different brands but also between different categories of foods.

The review has not been without its critics and some have challenged its findings. However, the review has undergone, and withstood, a significant amount of independent scrutiny, and its conclusions stand. Following on from the Hastings review and other agency work, the Food Standards Agency is currently consulting on a draft action plan on food promotions and children's diet. The action plan contains a number of recommendations addressed to government, schools, industry and others.

The principle underlying the plan is that it is time to move from debating the issue to determining solutions. This point has been emphasised by much of what has been said in this debate.

As my noble friend said in his opening remarks, one government department cannot tackle obesity on its own. Effective prevention and management requires an integrated, cross-government approach, working with a range of partners on programmes to tackle obesity, improve diet and increase physical activity. The Government recognise that in order to achieve their long-term goals they must also create partnerships.

I remind my noble friends and other noble Lords who have raised the subject of sport and physical activity that the Government's document, Game Plan, set out ideas for driving up physical activity and sports participation from 32 per cent to 70 per cent of the population by 2020.

Earlier this year, Derek Wanless published his report Securing good health for the whole population, which focused on the need to prevent ill health. It contained a powerful analysis of the wider determinants of health including inactivity, diet and nutrition and the significant impact of economic inequalities on people's health.

That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health has launched the "Choosing health?" consultation exercise which will inform the production of the public health White Paper by the summer. The consultation period began at the beginning of March and will run through to the end of May, culminating in publication of the White Paper in the summer. It is looking at the key areas of public health including diet and nutrition, physical activity, obesity.

As part of the three-month consultation on the public health White Paper a conference is also being held tomorrow—"Choosing health: achieving a balance between diet and exercise". I can reassure my noble friend Lord Morris that there is nothing sinister in the postponement of the Department of Health food and health action plan. He will not have to wait much longer and there is certainly a positive flurry of government action; for example, only last week the Chief Medical Officer also launched his report on physical activity, At least five a week. This provides the evidence of impact of physical activity and its relationship to health.

The Government are committed to making a real difference to the health of the population by tackling obesity through improving diet and nutrition and by greater emphasis on exercise. I thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this debate.

House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before ten o'clock.