Healthy eating plans come under scrutiny of trade regulator

Related tags Nutrition

The UK's competition regulator has moved to calm a potential storm
between the government and the food industry, after warning an
industry association that new goals for healthier foods could lead
to a breach of competition law, writes Chris Mercer.

A leaked letter from the Office of Fair Trading to the UK's Food and Drink Federation (FDF) warned that the group's new manifesto, which aims to reduce portion sizes and cut excess salt in foods, may be illegal if the consequence is reduced consumer choice or artificially higher prices.

This could happen if companies joined together to offer similar products. But the issue will only heighten the frustration of major food companies who in trying to achieve a more responsible image by working with the government, may now be susceptible to accusations that they are reducing consumer choice.

The OFT warning comes at a time when the food industry is seeking to demonstrate its commitment to making consumers' diets healthier. The FDF recently produced a seven-point 'manifesto for food and health', which includes goals such as including more nutritional information on product labeling, cutting salt and sugar levels in food, as well as portion sizes, and working with government to promote healthier eating through advertising.

OFT spokesperson, Roger Hislop, said that the competition watchdog had merely voiced general concerns to the FDF, as well as the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health, that there would be greater potential for illegal acts such as price fixing if companies clubbed together.

"There's nothing to stop any individual supplier from changing its goods and there would not be much danger in a government-led campaign to tackle obesity, but if companies got together and also decided to increase prices or reduce choice to customers then that may constitute a breach of competition law,"​ said Hislop.

FDF spokeswoman Christine Fisk told that the warning will not change the manifesto but would merely impact on the implementation of the initiatives by individual companies.

"We are working in a very competitive market. But we are also working closely with government on this and will aim to ensure that there is no infringement of competition."

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