Never has social responsibility and the food sector had a closer link and a greater focus. From employment contracts for workers throughout the supply chain, to ethical and organic sourcing becoming a greater priority for consumers, from allergen labelling to the nutritional profile of our foods, the end of 2018 shows that social responsibility topics are likely to play a big role in 2019.
The protein question
As a global economy we are more reliant on protein than ever before. It is therefore key to have a strategy for this unsustainable growth. This raises many interesting and complicated questions such as where the necessary space will come from for not only the protein but also the crops and what the environmental impact of the land use will be.
In order to meet the growing need for protein, one option in a post-Brexit world would be to allow genetic modification or gene editing to increase yields and thereby reduce the environmental impact, however this is unlikely to be popular. Further options are lab culturing the product in order to increase yield, changing diets or adopting meat 'tasting' vegetable alternatives such as the Impossible Burger.
All of these options are complex and interconnected and, in terms of the regulation of lab cultured 'meat', are starting to be explored by the US regulators. We can therefore expect this debate to be significant in 2019.
One of the stand-out stories in the close of 2018 was a series of tragic allergen cases. These cases highlighted that, while the law was followed, in some quarters there was concern that the law was not working as it should. We commented extensively on this at the time and highlighted that the law needs to be flexible to ensure that it is capable of operating in different environments selling non-prepacked foods.
Ultimately all businesses want to comply with the law and use it as their benchmark of what is required. Some organisations will go over and above the requirements, but that now increasingly seems to be what is expected in this area.
On the whole, the present position of allowing the information to be provided in writing, on signage or orally, works and changes are not really required. Without requiring more draconian rules, it is difficult to see how things could be changed to improve the current system, particularly when in most cases the issue is with the information not being available rather than how it was provided.
Ultimately, while no change in the law will avoid mistakes being made by sellers in their labelling or in consumers not thinking to ask, we expect that by Easter 2019 we will see a consultation for Food Information Regulations to amend the legal requirements for allergen labelling.
Less than a week into 2019 we have already seen substantial column inches taken by a new Change for Life Campaign by Public Health England regarding the level of sugar being consumed by our children. Headlines indicate that children on average now consume 13 cubes of sugar per day, resulting in them exceeding the maximum sugar intake recommended for an 18 year old by the age of 10.
The fact that a 330ml can of cola may contain almost twice the daily maximum sugar level recommended for a 4-6 year old is sure to set people thinking which is exactly what PHE want in order to lead consumer change.
The BBC posed the question 'are we going to get a pudding tax' on 2 January. Given the stark warnings in Chapter 2 of the Obesity Strategy which indicate that the government is prepared to consider taxation if sufficient progress is not made, it would not be a surprise if we saw a consultation on not just the BBC's pudding tax, but also a more general fat tax during 2019.
Meanwhile we also expect to see substantial innovation in the lower sugar and fat and healthy food market which will enable the progress that the industry has made so far to be maintained.
There is much more still to come however. 2019 will see futher activity towards mandatory calorie labelling in restaurants, consultations on in store placement and promotion of high fat sugar and salt products and likely attempts to draw online or platforms into these schemes of regulation. 2019 will be a busy year for nutrition topics.
Through 2019 we expect Brexit, the circular economy and waste and many other topics to raise significant social responsibility issues and drive behaviours of business and regulators alike.
If you have any questions on the issues discussed, please contact Dominic Watkins, Global Head of Food.