Out-of-home calorie labelling kicked into touch

And finally, m’sieur, a tiny waffer-theen mint? A mere 35 calories…(Pic: Monty Python)

PLANS for mandatory calorie labelling of food at the out-of-home ‘point of choice’ – on hospitality venue menus and chalkboards – have been paused by the Scottish Government following strong pushback during a public consultation on the matter.

Minister for Public Health Jenni Minto told the Holyrood Parliament that ScotGov was now ‘reflecting on all the responses that have been gathered’, and would not make a final decision on implementation until there had been further discussions with the hospitality sector.

Ms Minto noted, however, that out-of-home calorie labelling has been mandated for large businesses in England since April 2022, a policy which has resulted in many UK-wide high street chains now including that information on their menus in outlets in Scotland.

However, she conceded that ScotGov’s consultation on introducing the same measures in Scotland had elicited some ‘powerful’ counter arguments, not least people with eating disorders, who voiced concerned that mandatory calorie labelling would make their illnesses worse.

“I am grateful to all 660 respondents to our consultation and to the wide range of business, health, charity and consumer organisations that engaged with my officials,” said Ms Minto.

“I welcome the fact that Public Health Scotland has commissioned research on the issue, which is due in the autumn. We are committed to assessing the impact of our policies and are reflecting on all the responses that have been gathered, including the views of people who are affected by eating disorders.

“We wish to have further discussions with the hospitality sector before taking a decision to proceed with the measure. Therefore, I believe that we should pause before making a final decision on the next steps in relation to mandating calorie labelling.”

UKHospitality Scotland Executive Director Leon Thompson said he was pleased that the Scottish Government had listened to industry concerns.

“The planned introduction was additional red-tape that hospitality businesses scarcely need and would have come with enormous cost. The implementation of calorie labelling in England is costing affected businesses, on average, £20,000 per year and it was crucial that was avoided in Scotland,” insisted Thompson.

“With customer preference on this issue incredibly variable and a lack of evidence that calorie labelling makes a meaningful difference, it’s no surprise that the vast majority are opposed to its introduction.

“I would urge the Scottish Government to permanently drop this policy and focus on reducing red-tape for businesses, not increasing it.”

The majority of respondents to the ScotGov consultation opposed the introduction of mandatory calorie labelling.

As well as the measure’s potential to encourage and/or compound disordered eating, opponents argued that basic calorie labelling alone did not provide ‘sufficiently robust’ information about the nutritional value of food and drink, and that the policy could have an ‘insignificant or unsatisfactory’ impact when considering the relative costs of implementation.

It was also highlighted that mandatory calorie labelling may be particularly difficult for small and micro-businesses to implement and maintain, especially those which operate flexible/regularly changing menus.