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By Peter Hoskin
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I
was going to write a LeftWatch post about Andy Burnham’s new
crusade against unhealthy foods
, but then something intriguing happened that
made it more of a ToryDiary post. So, here is that ToryDiary. But let’s start
with Mr Burnham anyway.

As
reported in the papers this morning, the shadow health secretary is mooting the
idea of greater regulation of foods. Specifically, he suggests that the state
might clamp down on foods that are high in sugars and fats, and particularly
those aimed at children. He’s even proposed a 30 per cent cap on the sugar
content in breakfast cereals such as Frosties. As he sees it, the Government’s current
“voluntary” arrangements with food companies just aren’t bringing about the
desired results.

Cue
much ridicule of Mr Burnham across Twitter, not all of it unjustified. The
shadow health secretary may have some very proper motivations driving him on,
but there’s still something slightly, unavoidably ridiculous about him ruling
over the sugar levels in kids’ cereals. “Leave my Sugar Puffs alone,” as the
4-year-old girl on YouTube
puts it.


But
then that intriguing thing happened: in an interview this
afternoon
, Jeremy Hunt said that “a lot more needs to be done” to reduce
the sugar and salt content in supermarket food, and that “of course” the
Government would consider legislation if the food industry doesn’t “put [its]
house in order”. This was, it’s true, not an entirely consensual statement from
Mr Hunt: he attacked Mr Burnham for not acting when he was himself in
government, and defended the existing voluntary set-up. But it does suggest
that the Health Secretary and his shadow aren’t a thousand miles apart on this
issue.

I
suspect Burnham’s mistake today was to start off by calling for controls on
sugary cereals, leading to the inevitable “cereal
killer”
headlines. There are certainly more persuasive ways to convey the
broader points he’s making, and more persuasive policy ideas too, as Camilla
Cavendish demonstrated in an article
for the Times (£)
this week. She concentrated on the trans fats in our
foods:

“These are cheap industrial substances that prolong the
shelf-life of products such as cereal, doughnuts, processed meat, ready meals
and crisps, and give them more bulk or texture. Hydrogenation turns liquid
vegetable oils into harder substances that clog our arteries and are associated
with obesity, type 2 diabetes and the increased risk of heart attacks and
stroke. They were named as a toxin by the World Health Organisation in 2009.”

And then highlighted some areas where Government action might
actually be warranted:

“I
have just looked to see how many trans fats lurk in my kitchen. A packet of
crackers states reassuringly that it contains 0g of trans fat. But it lists ‘shortening
(hydrogenated vegetable oil)’ as an ingredient. That is trans fat. If
manufacturers are still misleading even conscientious consumers, the Government
is being nowhere near tough enough with the food industry.”

With obesity costing the NHS around £5 billion a year, I find it
fairly surprising that politicians don’t talk about food more often. Capping
sugar levels in cereals may not be the right answer, but surely there are
sensible taxpayer savings to be made somewhere — and with health benefits, too. So go on, Messrs Hunt and Burnham, share a pack of Ryvita and think it
through.

> READ: Harry Phibb's post on why Westminster Council is proposing docking benefits from the fat

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