Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 880-899)

THURSDAY 27 NOVEMBER

MR ANDREW COSSLETT, MR JULIAN HILTON-JOHNSON, MR MARTIN GLENN AND MR TIM MOBSBY

  Q880 Dr Taylor: I gather from your information that in fact you can substitute a packet of fruit for fries on the Happy Meal.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Yes, you can.

  Q881 Dr Taylor: I do not know if that is promoted in any way?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: It was very heavily promoted on television last week.

  Q882 Dr Taylor: I actually went to a McDonald's last week—

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We have promoted it over time, we are continuing to promote it. The promotion started off slowly because at the time we had changed some other things in our Happy Meals. We felt that the communication to customers was a little too much but we are ramping that up. We are finding more and more people do take that up.

  Q883 Dr Taylor: It certainly was not noticeable where I went last week. Would you ever consider using the toy as a reward and putting the toy in a Happy Meal with fruit but not in a Happy Meal with French fries?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: You can do that in any event. You can substitute the French fries for fruit.

  Q884 Dr Taylor: I do not mean that, I mean marketing the Happy Meal with a toy and fruit but not putting the toy in with the French fries to give the kid a reward for having the fruit?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: Of course it is something that we can consider. What we are doing with effect from December is that alongside the toy we will only be advertising fruit and chicken products. Not French fries,that is what we have decided from December this year.

  Q885 Dr Taylor: You will be doing it.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: I am not sure exactly what the question is but our Happy Meal advertising from December this year will involve a toy and chicken and fruit but not French fries.

  Q886 Dr Taylor: Excellent. If you have French fries you will not get the toy?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: You can have them if you want I am talking about the way it is advertised. The Happy Meal will still be the range of options that it currently is at the moment.

  Q887 Chairman: Why not have a positive promotion of toys with healthier food?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: That is certainly something that we can consider.

  Q888 Chairman: You would consider it.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We could consider it, yes.

  Dr Taylor: It would be a very positive step if it worked, getting kids to eat fruit rather than fries, if it worked!

  Q889 Mr Burtsow: Could or will consider it.

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: We absolutely will consider it.

  Q890 Mr Burns: Mr Hilton-Johnson, there has been considerable press coverage and public interest about attempts in the United States to sue you and other companies in the food industry on the grounds that you are allegedly held responsible for people's weight conditions and they have all been unsuccessful. As we know in America you can sue somebody for almost anything and be successful. You may be aware there are groups of lawyers meeting trying to work out how to pursue a successful action against food companies, operating on the basis that they will at some point somewhere in the United States find some judge who will not throw the case out and let it be heard. Can you inform the Committee what the current situation is and the latest news on these developments?

  Mr Hilton-Johnson: These developments are entirely in the US and I cannot speak for the US company I am afraid. I think we are all aware that the US has a very different litigation culture and that the UK is different to the US. The law suits to which you refer were thrown out by the judge at a very early stage, we believe they were without foundation and that it is wrong to target specific companies in the way that was happening. We believe fundamentally that it is wrong because it simply mis-informs the debate. There is an obesity problem in the US, we all know that, suing particular companies does not advance the debate at all.

  Mr Burns: Thank you.

  Q891 Dr Taylor: We have mentioned health warnings briefly already, can I just come back to them a moment, would you consider, the people who make crisps, putting a health warning on full fat ones and a very big notice—"healthy option" on the light ones, would that be feasible?

  Mr Glenn: It would be feasible but I think it would be disproportionate and potentially falling into the trap again of not giving the holistic picture about the total diet. On our packs of crisps we have full nutritional information, the big eight, how much fat—

  Q892 Dr Taylor: You do but it is in pretty small print and difficult to interpret sometimes. Again coming back to common currency, if there was just a simple large message about the number of calories comparing that with the fat free ones would that not be worth putting on?

  Mr Glenn: I keep an open mind to this whole question about labelling and we have been a genuine pioneer in it to be honest. Why would you just look at certain specific food types that are a very small percentage of the diet and not ask that question of everything?

  Q893 Dr Taylor: We are trying to approach that for every item of food from the point of view of labelling. It is a tremendous problem of life, as you have already said, that junk foods are so popular—sorry to call them junk foods.

  Mr Glenn: I am sorry too.

  Q894 Dr Taylor: They are extremely popular and there is a huge problem there. That is why I think some sort of better labelling even implying a health warning would be helpful.

  Mr Glenn: Just on certain food types that you define as junk or across everything?

  Q895 Dr Taylor: I hate to bring it up but—Public Health News has produced a table, the JP Morgan ranking of the percentage of not so healthy food and a percentage of better than plus healthy food. Cadbury's does not come out very well on this, Kellogg's comes out better but there are understood categories of not so healthy foods and better than plus healthy foods and it is the not so healthy ones that should have the warnings.

  Mr Glenn: I think if you go back to first principles here the big step forward we can make in the combating of obesity is simple messages about total diets, calories in and calories out. Heaven help us if we are being guided by a US investment bank to categorise our food, I would rather have it from a nutritional, medical point of view than a financial point of view. Something Mr Cosslett from Cadbury's said is very important, most consumers do understand that a bag of crisps or a bar of chocolate, etc is naughty but nice and should be consumed in moderation, I think they get that. There is an opportunity to make people understand in the totality of food that they consume where the calorie load comes in.

  Q896 Dr Taylor: Do you think that still exists? I know when I was brought up some time ago sweets were very much a luxury and you were told by your parents, one after meals and that was it. Again on Cadbury bars should there be any maximum number that you should eat in a day?

  Mr Cosslett: One after every meal I could take that.

  Q897 Dr Taylor: Would there be any advantage in that?

  Mr Cosslett: Perhaps I can say something, I think health warnings are for dangerous things. Whilst we recognise the problem I do not think that a Curly Wurly is a dangerous thing.

  Q898 Dr Taylor: In excess it probably is.

  Mr Cosslett: So are bananas. In excess anything has the potential to cause disturbance. I too take exception with the junk food term. Chocolate has many nutritional benefits which are now receiving increasing coverage, including letters in the—Lancet not too long ago stating that chocolate is one of the highest forms of naturally occurring anti-oxidants, greater even than red wine, which is very good. It has 20% of the recommended daily intake of calcium in an average size bar, 12% of iron. I do not call that junk food, I call bad diets junk diets. That is where we should arrive at. The concept of using health warnings on products that are totally safe, wholesome and have been enjoyed for very many years and are a known quantity is totally disproportionate.

  Mr Glenn: Could I add something. In the spirit of proportionality and evenness, would you consider health warnings on tv programmes and video games, excess playing in front of the PC, etc.?

  Chairman: We would, we are all health fascists.

  Q899 Dr Naysmith: Would the panel consider that it would change its views at all because in the research we have come across in this inquiry that fast foods or unnecessary snacks, if you would like to call them that rather than junk food, compose a much higher proportion of the diet of poorer sections of the population than higher income sections of the population?

  Mr Glenn: Crisps are consumed pretty widely by the population. There may well be a slight bias towards the less—


 
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