Publishing its first five-year strategy this week and a three-year corporate plan, Food Standards Scotland (FSS), committed to “develop specific measures to minimise consumption of ‘discretionary’ foods and drinks (including sugar-sweetened beverages)”.
Policies could include adjustments to the marketing, promotion and formulation of unhealthy products. A survey by consumer group Which? earlier this month showed that 53% of Scottish consumers feel that supermarkets should include healthier choices in promotions. Almost one in three (28%) said cost is a barrier to eating more healthily.
FSS, which was established by the Food (Scotland) Act 2015, has responsibility for food safety, authenticity, standards and labelling. But the Scottish Government has also added diets to the organisation’s remit.
Given that 40% of Scots are predicted to be obese by 2030, FSS has a job on its hands. The cost of obesity to Scottish society may be as high as £4.5bn (€5.19bn) per year, if wider economic costs are taken into account.
FSS will start by reviewing the success of current voluntary agreements as well as the potential for further industry-led action. There will also be campaigns aimed at changing behaviour but this might not be enough, the FSS admitted.
“Behaviour change alone will not deliver the scale of change we seek,” it notes. Indeed, if voluntary schemes are found to be wanting FSS will “develop recommendations for fiscal or regulatory measures”.
“Poor diet is one of the most significant causes of ill health in Scotland,” said FSS chief executive Geoff Ogle. “We cannot continue on our current trajectory.”
The paper notes that obesity is a “long‑standing and complex problem, and one that will take time, commitment and effort across a wide spectrum to find and deliver solutions. By widening the remit of FSS and giving us a specific statutory objective in relation to diet, the Scottish Parliament has set out its ambitions for change.”
Scotland published an obesity strategy back in 2010, but a new one is expected during this parliament.
The UK Government published its long-awaited childhood obesity strategy this week. The emphasis is on voluntary agreements and a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, which has angered campaigners. A target to cut sugar by 20% by 2020 in some foods is “unlikely to be technically practical”, said food industry representatives.
In addition to developing healthier diets, FSS will also look closely at food authenticity. The body, which was formed in the shadow of the horsemeat scandal, is designing a new food surveillance strategy for Scotland and establishing a Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit.
“Whilst recognising that food safety is a strategic priority in public health protection, we will also prioritise work to protect consumers’ interests that food is what it says it is,” noted FSS.
Food standards in Scotland were previously covered by the UK Food Standards Agency. However, some of the FSA’s functions were dispersed to other departments. This led to the development of FSS as a single food standards authority.