freelance journalist, print journalist, online journalist, copywriter, content editor, freelance editor, health and lifestyle, blogger Responsibility Deal: hardly a roaring success? | Christine Morgan - Journalist
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The Public Health Responsibility Deal is a year old today – hip hip hooray. But hold the celebrations, as according to Which?, the initiative hasn’t exactly been a roaring success.

The deal, which calls on food companies to display calorie information on their products as well as reduce the amount of salt in their foods and remove trans fats (hydrogenated fats), only signs up manufacturers on a voluntary basis. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that, in the past year, only two of the UK’s top 10 restaurants and pub groups have signed up to the deal (Mitchells and Butlers and JD Wetherspoon), while other big-name restaurant chains – including Nando’s, Prezzo, Pizza Express, Café Rougs and Strada – failing to commit.

According to Which?, of the top five coffee shops, just Starbucks and Marks & Spencer (The Café) have agreed to display calories, while others – including Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero – have declined. And while the consumer watchdog claims there has been some good progress made in terms of companies committing to reduce the level of salt in their food, many big-name brands – including Iceland, Findus, Princes and Birds Eye – have yet to join the deal. Where trans fats are concerned, most major companies have thankfully removed them from their products, but many smaller companies (such as take-aways and other caterers) have not signed up to the initiative.

So, all in all, Which? is calling for the government to do more if it is to tackle the obesity problem in the UK.

“We have the worst obesity rates in Europe and diet-related diseases, like heart disease and stroke, are blighting the public’s health,” says Which? executive director Richard Lloyd. “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 needed.

“The Government relies too much on voluntary deals with industry rather than showing real leadership. If food companies don’t 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.”

Where calorie labelling in chain restaurants is concerned, Which? suggests that if restaurants do not voluntarily display calories by this coming September, then the government must legislate (which in effect will force the restaurants to comply). The problem is, as restaurants know only too well, that many health-conscious people could stop eating out altogether if they are confronted with the number of calories they could be eating on a night out. Well it would make you think twice, wouldn’t it?

If food manufacturers can man up and put calorie information on the products we buy every week from the supermarket, then why shouldn’t restaurants and cafes do the same? Even if you were a dab hand at counting calories, when you eat out at a restaurant you can only take a rough guess as to the calorific value of the meal you’re about to eat. And perhaps it would force restaurants to use healthier ingredients if they were to start seeing their more calorie-laden dishes become less popular (please all you chefs out there, stop trying to kill us and use less cheese, less cream, less butter, less oil… surely that’s not too much to ask)?