ITS BEEN a year since the Government introduced its Public Health Responsibility Deal, and campaigners are suggesting it has been a wasted 12 months.
Which? has assessed the progress of the Deal and is not impressed. The consumer group said the initiative has failed with the Government overly-reliant on voluntary deals rather than showing real leadership.
A new Which? survey also shows that although 91% of UK adults actively try to eat a healthy diet, 28% are not satisfied the government is doing enough to help them.
As part of the Responsibility Deal food companies have been asked to sign up to three pledges: to provide calorie information out of home, meet salt reduction targets by 2012 and remove all trans fats by the end of 2011.
According to the Department of Health, 371 organisations have now agreed to the deal as opposed to 176 when the scheme was launched and that 9,000 food outlets in England now display calorie information on their menus. Health secretary Andrew Lansley said the deal has delivered more quickly than regulation.
Which? agreed that good progress has been made in relation to salt reductions, though many big-name food brands including Princes and Birds Eye have yet to pledge. Most major companies have removed trans fats from their products, though there are still smaller takeaways and other caterers that arent signed up to the pledge.
However, the big question mark involves calorie labelling. Which? wants all chain restaurants to have calorie labelling in place by September. So far only two of the top 10 restaurants and pub groups (Harvester and Wetherspoon) have agreed to calorie information. Other big brands, such as Ask, Beefeater, Café Rouge, Garfunkels, Pizza Express, Prezzo and Strada have failed to sign up, the group said.
Of the top five coffee shops, just Starbucks and Marks and Spencer's The Café have said they will display calories. Meanwhile, Costa Coffee, the largest chain with over a thousand outlets, is still failing to commit to providing this information, as are its competitors Caffe Nero and Caffe Ritazza.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: Our audit of progress made under the Government's Responsibility Deal has shown the current approach is overly reliant on vague voluntary promises by the food industry. This has so far failed to bring about change on anything like the scale that's needed.
The Government relies too much on voluntary deals with industry rather than showing real leadership. If food companies dont agree to help people eat more healthily, then we must see legislation to force them to do so for the sake of the health of the nation.
British Retail Consortium food director Andrew Opie said the pressure should be on those not taking part rather than the usual good guys. He added: Theres a lot to be proud of one year into the Responsibility Deal. But no-one should forget that its consumers who make the final decisions about eating and exercise.