Green light for calorie labels and junk food ad bans

Calorie labels on out of home menus will become mandatory from 2022 after the government gave the green light to new legislation.

Regulations were laid in parliament this week that will require large businesses with 250 or more employees in England, including cafes, restaurants and takeaways, to display the calorie information of non-prepacked food and soft drink items that are prepared for customers.

Information will need to be displayed at the point of choice for the customer, such as physical menus, online menus, food delivery platforms and food labels.

The government has included a provision which allows businesses to provide a menu without calorie information at the express request of the customer. This responds to concerns raised by MPs and campaigners that calorie labels could exacerbate eating disorders.

The government said the policy, which has long been the subject of fierce debate, would ensure people are able to make more informed, healthier choices when it comes to eating food out or ordering takeaways.

It was also confirmed in the queen’s speech that promotions on high fat, salt and sugar foods and drinks sold in retail stores will be restricted from April 2022. The government’s health and care bill will include measures to ban junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed on TV and for a total ban online.

The government’s commitment to legislate to tackle obesity represents a victory for health campaigners amid fears that recent announcements hinted at a less interventionist approach.

"In committing to restrict junk food adverts pre-9pm watershed on TV and a total restriction online, the government has today chosen to stand firm in the face of industry lobbying and focus instead on child health,” said Children's Food Campaign coordinator Fran Benhardt.

Hospitality sector leaders, however, condemned the timing of the new regulations. “The last thing the sector needs after prolonged periods of closure and trading restrictions is unnecessary red tape,” said Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality. “The majority of operators are in survival mode and their recovery will take many, many months, so creating additional burdens is hugely unhelpful.”

The British Takeaway Campaign called for small restaurants to be given an exemption from the ban on online advertising, which includes social media, or risk the loss of thousands of jobs.

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