The Friday Digest: government praised for energy intervention but panned on obesity

We start this week with – surprise, surprise – energy, and news that business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has ridden to the rescue of hospitality businesses facing huge hikes in their energy bills. The new government energy bill relief scheme will provide a discount on wholesale gas and electricity prices for all non-domestic customers whose current gas and electricity prices have been significantly inflated in light of global energy prices.

The government said it has “stepped in” to stop businesses collapsing and is also introducing measures to “boost the amount of domestic energy we produce to improve both energy security and supply”. And just as we were wrapping up the digest, Rees-Mogg announced that he was lifting the moratorium on shale gas production in England and supporting a new oil and gas licensing round.Rees-Mogg has previously talked of squeezing every last cubic inch of gas and oil from the North Sea. “2050 is a long way off,” he told LBC earlier this year. “We’re not trying to become net-zero tomorrow.” Or at all?

The mini-budget today may bring more cheers or jeers from hospitality businesses as attention turns to the other levers the government could pull to prevent swathes of businesses going under. Toby Smith, chief operating officer of City Pub Group, told Propel the energy price cap gives business the certainty to plan, but the “big one” remains a reduction in VAT

According to a poll by Morning Consult, 82% of Brits said that the increasing cost of living has affected their dining out behaviours: 65% are eating out less frequently, 28% are ordering cheaper items on the menu, and 27% are being more picky about where they eat out. 

GlobalData’s latest foodservice and insights trends report forecasts a rise in retail-restaurant partnerships as companies look to share their overheads. Soaring costs could also see more restaurants looking at sustainable innovations in a bid to keep prices lower. Industry terms like ‘nose-to-tail’ and ‘zero waste’ could become concepts rather than just buzzwords, according to the UK edition of the Resy top dining out trends for 2023 report. “Restaurants will lean on their creativity to transform more ‘humble’ and overlooked ingredients – like alternative cuts of meat, or vegetable ‘waste’ like carrot tops – into the centre-pieces of dishes.” The emphasis will be on maximising ingredients and minimising waste. 

Speaking of waste, the EU wastes more food (153.5 million tonnes) than it imports (138 million tonnes of agricultural products), according to Feedback. The new figure, published in the No time to waste report, is nearly double previous estimates due to better availability of data on food wasted on farms (which are also needed in the UK). Almost 90 million tonnes of food is wasted in the primary production phase; foodservice accounts for 10.5 million tonnes; in processing it’s 15.4 million tonnes, wholesale and retail 5.3 million tonnes and households 32.5 million tonnes. All this waste damages food security amid the cost of living crisis, the authors warned. Some 43 organisations from 20 EU countries are now calling on the European Commission to introduce legally-binding targets for member states to cut EU food waste from farm to fork by 50% by 2030.

And finally: we started with the government being patted on the back so in the interests of BBC-like balance let’s finish with a kick in the teeth. 

Rumours that the government could scrap its entire obesity strategy have intensified following reports last week that ministers had ordered an official review of measures designed to deter people from eating HFSS (high in fat, sugar and salt) foods. Industry groups have been pushing for the regulatory burden on businesses to be eased, which has now forced campaigners to join forces and write an open letter to Liz Truss, the prime minister. 

It would be “absolutely scandalous” if Truss does not fully examine the extensive evidence supporting the policies under review, said Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London, and chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt. The soft drinks industry levy, for example, has not only reduced household sugar consumption but also increased sales and generated revenue to help the more vulnerable, he added.

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