Bread: Sugar

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the Supreme Court of Ireland's ruling in Bookfinders Ltd -v- Revenue Commissioners on 29 September that the bread used by Subway cannot (1) be defined as bread, or (2) classed as a staple food, due to the amount of sugar it contains; what plans they have to review the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 to ensure that the legal description of bread meets public health criteria; and what steps they intend to take to promote public understanding of the sugar levels contained in bread used by fast food chains.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am aware of the recent judgement by the Supreme Court in Ireland in the case between the Revenue Commissioners and Bookfinders in respect of Subway in Ireland. I agree it is an interesting case, not about the general definition of bread or cake, but about specific VAT rates payable for different goods and services, in respect of exemptions to higher tax rates that rely on specific definitions of food. One of these is to define bread, for taxation purposes, as containing no more than 2% of any of a number of substances, including sugar. The court held that this was designated in order to avoid the exemption falling to the supply of food not considered a ‘staple’ for which the exemption was designed, but to ‘indulgences’, which for example might include cakes and pastries.

The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 (BFR) define bread as a food of any size, shape or form which is usually known as bread and consists of a dough made from flour and water, with or without other ingredients, which has been fermented by yeast or otherwise leavened and subsequently baked or partially baked. This definition is intended for consumers rather than for tax purposes.

The BFR are in place primarily as a public health measure to support population intakes of four nutrients. They require therefore that flour sold in the UK (with a few exemptions) must be fortified with calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine, the latter three being simply restored after being lost in the milling process.

Defra has committed to reviewing the BFR, as they apply in England, after the Transition Period. This will take into consideration regulatory concerns raised by industry and any potential legislative changes that might arise from the joint UK Government and Devolved Administrations consultation on the proposed additional requirement to fortify flour with folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects in foetuses.

“Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives”, published in July, confirmed that we will introduce legislation to require large out-of-home sector businesses, including restaurants, cafes and takeaways with 250 or more employees, to provide calorie labels on the food they sell. We will also encourage smaller businesses to provide calorie information voluntarily and will consider extending the requirement to include them in the future.

The Eatwell Guide, the UK’s healthy eating model, and associated messaging is promoted through a range of channels including the NHS.UK website, the GOV.UK website, and the Government’s national social marketing campaigns Change4Life and One You.

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