Labour opposes junk food ban as living costs soar

(BBC): A Labour government would not ban cut-price deals for unhealthy foods during a cost-of-living crisis, the party’s shadow health secretary has said.

Wes Streeting said he was “not tin-eared enough” to impose anti-obesity rules when food costs were rising.

He said he would prefer to work with food companies before introducing regulations, which he did not rule out.

Labour previously supported now-delayed government plans to crackdown on junk food deals.

The Conservative government had intended to ban promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free offers on products high in fat, salt and sugar under measures in its obesity strategy from October.

But earlier this year the government said the promotions would be banned in October 2023 instead.

Plans to restrict TV advertising of junk foods before the 9pm watershed and paid-for online adverts are also being paused and will not come into force until January 2024.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the new measures would have coincided with a rise in energy and goods prices.

At the time, Labour accused the “chaotic government” of “performing another U-turn” instead of cutting childhood obesity.

Now the anti-obesity rules could be scrapped altogether after Prime Minister Liz Truss said she would halt a ban on junk food deals if she won the Tory leadership contest.

The government is reviewing its anti-obesity strategy for England, including plans for a ban on TV advertising of junk food before 9pm.

When asked about Labour’s policy, Mr Streeting told the BBC: “There are good public health arguments for banning such offers.

“I’m not tin-eared enough to say that a Labour government would do that in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. I don’t think that would be the right thing to do right now.”

He added: “What I’ve said to the food and drink industry is before government comes along with a stick and tries to regulate it to do the right thing, let’s work together.

“Price isn’t the problem here, it’s the salt and sugar content of food, because as we saw with soft drinks, a bit of reformulation can go a long way.”

Asked about a tax on sugar tax, Mr Streeting said: “Our first resort is not going to be taxes against this current backdrop.”

He has made similar comments during fringe events at the Labour conference, where the party has been outlining how its policy vision contrasts with that of the Tories.

Speaking at a Fabian Society event on Tuesday, Mr Streeting said he was not ruling out tougher regulation of unhealthy food once the cost-of-living crisis had eased.

He said: “I’ve not said not ever, I’ve been very clear in saying not now.”

Mr Streeting – who has been talked about as a potential future leader of Labour – is due to give a speech to the party’s conference on Wednesday.

When the delay on the junk food ban was announced in May, health campaigners were dismayed, with one accusing former Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “playing politics” with children’s health.

Katharine Jenner, of the Obesity Health Alliance of doctors and charities, said Labour needed to clarify what Mr Streeting’s comments meant “for their stance on policies to improve children’s health”.