The Government’s new Obesity Strategy proposes the calories of meals and even alcoholic drinks have to be displayed on menus, as part of the Government’s plan to improve public health amid the coronavirus pandemic.
UKH’s Kate Nicholls said this labelling could cost as much as £40,000 per menu run for some businesses at a time when pubs and restaurants are already facing challenging times.
She explained: “A well-intentioned targeting of child obesity is at risk of evolving into an interventionist approach that heaps burdens on hospitality businesses just when they are at their most vulnerable and fighting for survival.
The most constructive approach to improving public health would be to “provide effective and credible tools to allow people to make informed decisions about their lifestyles, nutrition and exercise, from as early an age as possible,” Nicholls said.
The legislation would require hospitality venues with more than 250 employees to provide calorie labels while encouraging smaller businesses to voluntarily provide the information at first, according to a policy paper Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives.
The Government also outlined intentions to make the public more aware of the calorific content of alcoholic drinks, with a planned consultation on introducing calorie labelling on drinks sold in the out-of-home sector.
Nicholls said: “The sector is keen to play an active and positive role in helping to deliver and support initiatives in schools, to better communicate the benefits of healthy cooking and eating – there is simply no question that education has an enormous role to play in reducing obesity in the long term.”
“We are genuinely keen to work with [the] Government to address obesity but the extra regulatory and cost burdens of measures like menu labelling could not come at a worse time. Hospitality has played its part in lockdown, feeding and accommodating vulnerable people and key workers. Now, as we focus on securing jobs and helping the economy and communities to recover, a raft of costs and regulatory burdens would be a slap in the face.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said this move could see pubs reduce their food offers.
She said: "It will be prohibitively expensive for pubs to implement, especially when they have had nearly four months without trade due to the lockdown.
“In many cases UK brewers are already responding to consumer demand for calorie information and across the EU have voluntarily committed to providing the information on labels. There are also a variety of online resources available to help consumers understand calorie information for beer. Making calorie labelling mandatory for all beer, including draught beer, is unnecessary and burdensome at a time where many smaller brewers are struggling to recover from the impacts of the pandemic."
Menu labelling has been proposed by policymakers before in addition to calorie caps, with publicans sceptical of the suggestions.
The Government said evidence suggests being overweight or obese places people at increased risk of serious illness or death from Covid-19. It found nearly 8% of critically ill coronavirus patients in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population.