14 May 2022, 00:01
Boris Johnson is to delay a ban of ‘buy one get one free’ supermarket junk food deals to help families cope with the “unprecedented” cost of living crisis.
The planned ban on multi-buy promotions on foods and drinks high in fat, salt, or sugar (HFSS) is being put back a year to October 2023, the Government said.
The 9pm watershed for adverts promoting sugary snacks will also be scrapped to help poorer families – and will now come into effect in January 2024.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the deferral will give ministers a chance to assess the impact of the cost of living squeeze on household finances.
The Prime Minister announced the policies as part of a crackdown on obesity after the Covid pandemic in 2020.
A new law restricting offers on foods high in fat, sugar and salt was due to come into effect in October. Under the plans, junk food giants were also to be banned from advertising online and before 9pm on TV by January 2023.
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However, Mr Johnson has bowed to pressure in a dramatic U-turn and has deferred the controversial ban.
Health campaigners reacted with dismay to the news, accusing the Prime Minister of “playing politics” with children’s health.
Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt, said the delays completely contradicted the Government’s “levelling up” agenda.
“Boris Johnson could have left a legacy of being the first Prime Minister to address obesity in a meaningful way, particularly in restricting advertising and promotion of unhealthy food which were his flagship policies,” he said.
“Instead, he has given in to his own MPs, and an aggressive food industry, who, ironically, were starting to comply with these new policies.”
However industry body the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) welcomed the “pragmatism” of the Government’s action.
Kate Halliwell, the FDF’s chief scientific officer, said: “At a time when both families and our manufacturers are struggling with high inflation, it makes sense to delay the restrictions on volume promotions for everyday food and drink products, including breakfast cereals, ready meals and yoghurts, as it risked further stretching already-pressed household budgets.
“We also welcome the delay to the start of advertising restrictions, given the time it will take our industry to prepare for the change in law.”
Public Health Minister Maggie Throup insisted that they remained determined to tackle the issue of childhood obesity.
“We’re committed to doing everything we can to help people live healthier lives,” she said.
“Pausing restrictions on deals like buy one get one free will allow us to understand its impact on consumers in light of an unprecedented global economic situation.”
For Labour, shadow public health minister Andrew Gwynne said: “Boris Johnson’s desperation to cling onto his job means the ideology of Conservative MPs is being placed above children’s health.
“Instead of cutting childhood obesity, preventing ill-health and easing pressure on the NHS, this chaotic government is performing another U-turn.”
The DHSC said restrictions on the placement of less healthy products in stores and supermarkets will still come into force in October 2022 as planned.