Better late than never? New Zealand government finally responds to industry’s anti-obesity plan
The taskforce’s report and recommendations had been submitted to the Ministry of Health and Food Safety in December 2018.
Minister of Health Dr David Clark and Minister of Food Safety Damien O’Connor responded to taskforce secretariat representative Katherine Rich in November 2019, making it almost a full year before the taskforce received a response.
In the letter, which FoodNavigator-Asia has viewed courtesy of Rich, the ministers apologised for the delay in response and commended the taskforce for its efforts, then expressed support for the ‘principles underlying the report’s recommendations’.
They also proceeded to urge that 14 of the 51 recommendations be prioritised in alignment with the WHO’s Essential Nutrition Actions workstreams that surround reformulation, nutritional quality of foods, labelling and information, as well as marketing foods and non-alcoholic drinks to children.
According to Rich, many of the 51 recommendations had been set to be implemented in 2019, but given the delay, this would be impossible.
“Many of the recommendations have not yet been taken up due to the delay in the Government responding. The taskforce had recommended 2019 for action for many of them and these will obviously now be pushed back to dates still to be determined,” Rich, who is also New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Chief Executive, told us.
“We had hoped some of the recommendations would have been started by now, but the timelines will now have to be re-set.”
But that is not to say that nothing has been in the works since the report was submitted, as the industry has been moving forward with several of the recommendations, albeit not as part of a formalised initiative with the government.
“Since the report was presented to the Government, industry has been continuing the work on these [including] reformulation to reduce saturated fats, trans-fats, free sugars and salt/sodium, supporting [improved] nutrition labelling, encouraging greater uptake of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system, [as well as] promoting education and community initiatives,” said Rich.
“The rise in products with the Heath Stars has continued, with 155 added in just the past three months, taking the total now to 5150.”
What is likely to change moving forward is that all of these initiatives will take place as a more formal and co-ordinated approach with the government.
“We propose formalising engagement between industry and government to take forward this important work to create healthier food environments and contribute to reducing obesity in New Zealand,” the Ministers said.
“We consider close engagement to be beneficial because it recognises the important role of both parties in creating change, and signals a commitment to discuss and agree on actions to achieve common aspirations and goals.”
Representatives from the taskforce and government will now meet to take the discussion further.
“[Action on the recommendations moving forward] will likely happen as part of the formalised work with industry that the Government has signalled,” said Rich.
“The food and beverage sector is committed to continuing to work with government, non-government organisations and the community to address factors that contribute to obesity. Until we sit down with them and look at how this will work I can’t comment further. But as far as we’re concerned everything is on the table, starting with the 51 recommendations.
“[One of the things] we will press the Government on is to pick up Recommendation 3 for a children’s National Nutrition Survey, because data about what New Zealand children eat is 17 years out of date. The Adult National Nutrition Survey also hasn’t been updated for 11 years (Recommendation 4). It’s vital that we know what Kiwis are eating so we can target our efforts.
“We also want to talk further about Recommendation 46, which calls for the Government to resource a further awareness and education campaign for the HSR system.”
More on the 51 recommendations
The 51 recommendations laid out by the taskforce addressed five major areas: F&B reformulation and innovation (14), employee health and wellness programmes (5), community and education initiatives (12), F&B marketing (12), and labelling and the rollout of HSR (7), with one more recommendation regarding governmental collaboration.
In their letter, both ministers encouraged the prioritisation of reformulation, marketing especially for children, and labelling/HSR rollout in line with the WHO Essential Nutrition Actions workstreams.
Under reformulation, Ministers encouraged urged the key priorities to be ‘set and review nutrient reformulation targets’ and to ‘develop industry nutrition policies’.
Under F&B marketing they asked for the focus to be on the marketing of food and beverages to children; whereas under labelling they want to see greater HSR uptake.
Recommendations 47 and 48 on voluntary menu labelling and customer information, and Recommendation 50 to adopt ANZ Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation outcomes were also highlighted.
Rich added: “We believe all the recommendations will play their part in helping to reduce obesity, so they are all equally important.
“Timelines [for implementation will also] have to be decided in conjunction with the Government, but we’re keen to see them progressed as soon as possible.”