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3 June 2015

FDF open letter to Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England

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Sent on behalf of Ian Wright, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the voice of UK food and drink manufacturers.

Mr Simon Stevens
Chief Executive
NHS England
Skipton House
80 London Road

3 June 2015

Dear Simon,

Following your appearance on the Andrew Marr Show and your interview in The Times yesterday I wanted to register some concerns about some of your comments.

You are right to encourage all parties, including the food industry, to play an active role in tackling obesity. However, we believe obesity is a complex problem which cannot be reduced to the demonisation of one ingredient, nor can it be right that an everyday ingredient such as sugar is characterised as a poison.

We welcome the Prime Minister's commitment that all parties should have an active role in tackling the problem. For many years, FDF members have taken a responsible, proactive and collaborative approach to public health. We are fully committed to working with government to ensure that industry is part of the solution. There is no simple answer to the complex problems of obesity; a healthy lifestyle must include both a balanced diet and physical activity. We were proud to be a founding signatory of the Responsibility Deal and believe working in partnership has led to the quickest, and most effective, results.

As you acknowledge, a world-leading salt reduction programme is at the forefront of these achievements, having helped reduce population intakes by 15 per cent. We have also worked on increasing fibre, micronutrients, fruit and vegetable content in recipes and have virtually eliminated artificial trans fats in products. We have led the world for well over a decade in providing nutrition information on pack and in developing responsible marketing practices, partly captured in the EU Pledge on Responsible Marketing.

We have reduced calories through recipe reformulations, including sugar and saturated fat reductions, to iconic products and changed portion sizes. In particular, through the use of low calorie sweeteners, significant reformulations have been made in carbonated beverages, dairy desserts and yoghurt, confectionery and table-top sweeteners.

The food and drink industry employs around 400,000 people. It contributes £22 billion to our economy and through the taxes paid by employees and companies, plays a major part in funding the NHS. We use our world-leading technology and highly skilled employees to innovate, rising to the challenge of making healthy food more pleasurable and of making pleasurable food healthier. We self-fund three quarters of the sector's research and development and the work we carry out in the UK creates new products and ideas which are exported around the world.

We support evidence and science-based solutions in tackling the obesity challenge. Indeed when it comes to taking action on health, companies rely on Government guidance to ensure they are focusing their energies and investment in work which will bring about positive change for consumer health. This is why it is so important to us that the science is used accurately, and not casually overstated. That will only confuse the consumer. It is clear that excessive consumption of sugar can lead to overconsumption of calories and to weight gain.

We are very open to discussions on how the industry can best contribute to improve public health I would welcome the opportunity to meet you and discuss the industry's achievements and how we can continue the process of collaboration in improving public health.

Yours sincerely,

Director General

Examples of company product range changes for health:

  • Recent data from Kantar Worldpanel show that calories across the soft drinks category are down by 7.3% over the last three years. The data show that calories and sugars from soft drinks are falling faster than in any other food and drink category, with calories down 7.3% and sugar down 8.3% since April 2012.
  • FDF's confectionery producer members agreed to implement a 250 kcal cap on individually wrapped, single-serve confectionery items which has resulted in an average calorie reduction of 10-15% in many top-selling branded products.
  • Since 2005, Coca-Cola has launched 27 reformulated or new drinks, all with reduced sugar and calories. These included introducing Coca-Cola Life and reformulating Fanta, Sprite and Dr Pepper and every one of the company's brands has a reduced or no-sugar option available. Coca-Cola has reduced the average calories per litre across its sparkling soft drinks by 5.3% since 2012.
  • Britvic's move to only produce and sell Robinsons No Added Sugar squash will remove 6.9 billion calories from the UK soft drinks market. This follows the decision to only sell No Added Sugar Robinsons Fruit Shoot resulting in 2.2 billion calories being removed from the UK children's soft drinks market.
  • Mondelez International reduced the calories per bag by 53% from 159kcals - 76kcals per bag in its Cadbury's Dairy Milk Buttons multipack individual bags.
  • Premier Foods has been one of the first companies to commit voluntarily to the UK government's recommended hybrid traffic light labelling. By aligning internal nutrition standards with the government's scheme, where possible the company is aiming to have less 'reds' on their labels over time. The vast majority of Premier Foods products now carry hybrid traffic light labelling, with 90% of products now meeting Hybrid Traffic Light Labelling pledge commitments.
  • In 2005, PepsiCo pledged to only advertise low/no sugar Pepsi varieties in the UK now accounting for 69% of its retail sales. In 2007 in its Walkers savoury crisps, the company achieved a 70-80% reduction in saturated fat by moving to healthier oils. Between 2008 and 2013 PepsiCo sold over 10 billion (11.594) servings of wholegrain thanks in part to making oats more accessible with Oat So Simple pots and sachets and broadening oats beyond the breakfast meal into snacks.
  • Unilever successfully delivered a calorie reduction programme in its kids' ice creams by 2012, resulting in all of the company's children's ice creams now at 110Kcal or fewer. The company's new commitment is for 100% of its single –serve ice cream products to contain 250kcal or fewer by spring 2016.

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