UK Consumers' Association Throws Down Food Gauntlet

08 March 2004

Britain's food giants and the government have been given notice by the Consumers' Association. Get your act together on nutritional, marketing and labelling issues or face a 'naming and shaming' campaign.

In a warning shot across the bows of the Blair administration, the consumer body has launched a campaign via Team Saatchi. Straplined Health Warning to Government beneath a visual of greasy French fries in an ashtray, the ad draws an analogy between smoking and health problems associated with food.

CA is angered at the government's reluctance to challenge the (largely) multinational food industry. Accuses the watchdog's principal policy advisor Sue Davies: "The government has to show that it is willing to take on the industry. So far it has not done that, which is why we have come out so strongly."

The consumers' champion has launched an attack on two fronts.

It seeks meetings with the UK supermarket Big Four -- Tesco, Asda/Wal-Mart, J Sainsbury and Safeway/Morrisons -- to agree a universal labelling scheme to aid consumers in making healthier eating choices.

And, secondly, it will urge consumers to boycott the products concerned if the government fails within the next month to accept CA's demands to (1) impose restrictions on TV advertising during children's programmes; and (2) create a Nutrition Council that would report to the government's Food Standards Agency.

Unsurprisingly, the food industry and government are united in their lack of enthusiasm for such moves. The latter would create yet another layer of bureaucracy, they complain; while the former has already been referred by culture, media and sport secretary Tessa Jowell to new media supra-regulator Ofcom.

Martin Paterson, deputy director-general of the Food and Drink Federation, emerged from his corner fighting, insisting that the FDF will not be bulldozed by the CA's announcement. "The CA has rather missed the boat," he said.

"The Department of Health has already announced a white paper to consult on food and health issues, and the food chain has pledged to work with the government on helping people to understand more about food and nutrition."

He also countered that the consumer body fails to mention the importance of physical exercise. But CA's Davies tags this as an archetypal diversionary tactic used by the food industry to block agreement on any changes to its practices.

The government has yet to respond to CA's challenge, perhaps believing the old adage that discretion is the better form of valour.

• But there is some sign of movement by the Food Standards Agency. It is to target the Football Association along with sponsorship organisations and players' agents to encourage the endorsement of healthy foods.
    At the same time, it will criticize the use of kids' sporting heroes like former England soccer captain Gary Lineker to tout PepsiCo's Walkers crisps and England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio's hyping of fast food chain McDonald's.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff