The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) has strongly criticised the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation on proposed restrictions for food promotions.

The 12-week consultation asks whether there should be more restrictions on how retailers promote food and drink that is high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS).

Tim Rycroft, FDF chief operating officer, said: “Announcing this consultation is grossly insensitive and a monumental distraction when so many food businesses are facing into the abyss of a no-deal Brexit. It looks like the Department of Health and Social Care is out of touch with economic realities and with the rest of Government, whose sole focus now is preventing the catastrophe of no-deal. This consultation – already late – should have waited until the uncertainty we face is resolved.

“What’s more, this proposed plan is both wrong-headed and muddled. A promotions ban would make shopping more expensive and reduce choice.

“Shoppers love the UK’s, vibrant, good-value, innovative food and drink market, and promotions underpin that. They allow new products and brands to win space on supermarket shelves and help new products to get shoppers’ attention. Limiting the effectiveness of these mechanisms would stifle innovation and lock-in the positions of dominant brands. It would make it harder for challenger brands and start-ups to break into the market.”

The government is proposing new rules to restrict retailers using promotions thought to cause excessive consumption of HFSS food and drink by children.

The consultation asks people to give their views on restricting multibuy promotions of HFSS products, such as ‘buy one, get one free’, as well as restricting promotions of HFSS products at checkouts, end of aisles and store entrances.

Rycroft added: “Promotions also play a big role in making food more affordable. Government data shows that, on average, people would have to spend £634 a year more for the same food if promotions were banned.”

“For more than ten years the food and drink industry has risen to the UK’s significant obesity challenge. Favourite products have been reformulated to reduce sugar, calories, fat and salt. Portion sizes have been limited. Some of these principals have now been adopted as part of Public Health England’s own reformulation programmes.

“Preventing companies from promoting these reformulated, healthier options to consumers would be mad; but that’s what the Government wants to do. This is a bizarre and contradictory public health policy.”

Public Health Minister Steve Brine said: “Preventing ill health is critical to our Long Term Plan for the NHS, and I want to do everything in my power to keep people healthy for longer. This must start with the health and nutrition of our children.

“This is about ensuring businesses are doing their part to shift the balance and help children and families eat healthier options like fruit and vegetables.”

For more information on the consultation, click here.