Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. What I am trying to do is get a figure on that.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) It is almost impossible to say how much of that part of the curriculum is spent on this function and how much that costs. I could not give it to you.
  (Mr Rickett) We spent £4 million a year on the "Are You Doing Your Bit?" campaign which amongst other things promotes sustainable transport[13]. There are many other things which could come under the heading of promotion. We provide money for bursaries, for travel plan coordinators in local authorities.

  101. Targeted advertising, promotion.
  (Mr Rickett) We encourage local authorities too.

  102. I am just sticking to targeted advertising and promotion. You have about a £4 million figure on that.
  (Mr Rickett) That is an example. I am not going to say that is the only sum we spend.
  (Mr Podger) We do not have a budget for national promotional campaigns.

  103. That will do me so far. How much does the food industry have as its budget for advertising and promotion? Vast sums more than two of your departments and probably vastly more than any figure you would like to come up with. I see heads nodding in assent. Is this then not part of our problem? How much does the food industry spend promoting apples and fresh fruit compared with processed food, food stuffed with sugar, salt, fats? Minuscule versus lots?
  (Mr Podger) Yes, without a doubt, because they are relatively low value products and the higher value products are often the ones which are high in fats and sugars.

  104. If I look at page 38 and the very helpful pie chart 21 of the balance of good health, is puffed wheat not just baked cardboard? The same sort of nutritional value? I notice that the beans are tinned and even in the fruit and vegetable segment there is tinned sweetcorn, generally stuffed with sugar, and I notice even in the fruit and vegetable segment, which has a healthy green background, there are tinned peaches, again stuffed with sugar.
  (Mr Podger) I think we must be slightly careful, if I may say so, in taking the view that all tinned vegetables or indeed frozen foods for that matter are stuffed with sugar.

  105. I did not mention frozen. I would not make that mistake.
  (Mr Podger) I myself, on the rare occasions when I buy tinned vegetables I actually am successful in securing ones which are not in the condition you described.

  106. Do you have much trouble in doing that?
  (Mr Podger) No, I have not.

  107. What proportion on the shelf, since you are probably picking them off some shelf or other, is in that category as against the baked beans and others stuffed with sugar?
  (Mr Podger) I could genuinely not say. I answered your question in terms which I know to be true.

  108. Have you read Geoffrey Canon's The Food Scandal?
  (Mr Podger) Yes.

  109. Does that give you an idea how much?
  (Mr Podger) That is his particular view to which he is quite entitled.

  110. What is the view of the Food Standards Agency?
  (Mr Podger) In relation to what? In relation to tinned food?

  111. In relation to adding sugar to things like beans and the sorts of items you want to buy.
  (Mr Podger) We take two views, which both reinforce the point you are making. The first is that we actually think it is highly desirable to have foods available which are specifically low in these attributes. The second is that we also think it desirable that the general product—and I think this is your point—should in itself not have higher levels of these attributes than is actually essential in terms of people's taste. That is quite an important point. It is a point, as you know, in relation to baked beans where there has been a campaign to reduce the sugar in them. Certainly the industry itself is very live to the point that you cannot simply market slimmers' products.

  112. I do not want you to speak for the industry about the dangers, reinforcing perhaps some suspicions of some of us. To go back to your product, is your product more expensive than the general one because it is lighter?
  (Mr Podger) My experience is—and again I can only talk in terms of my experience—that that is not the case.

  113. That is not my experience and I shop a little like you. You can give me the name of your store afterwards. In terms of baked beans and the drive to reduce sugar, how successful has that been?
  (Mr Podger) I do not have figures available. I shall happily offer a note[14]. There certainly have been reductions and salt is a similar area where we have managed to achieve with the industry reductions in salt content in bread.

  114. What is the Agency's goal on baked beans for instance or bread?
  (Mr Podger) The Agency's general position would be that it would like to reduce all these elements of the diet which are found in unnecessarily high concentrations.

  115. To what?
  (Mr Podger) I am just coming to that point. To the levels which actually are needed and are shown to be needed either for palatability or the manufacture of the product and recognising their position in the general diet which is an important point. The reason why salt in bread is very important is because of the extent to which we consume bread. Salt for example in particular specialist meat products may be less important because they are not part of the general diet.

  116. The problem with salt is that we all take too much salt.
  (Mr Podger) Yes; right, essentially.

  117. We do not really need to add salt too much except to give it that flavour we have actually acquired. Nobody is going to die in Britain. Are you telling us people are going to die in Britain if the food manufacturers drastically reduce the amount of salt they put in, whether it is bread or whatever?
  (Mr Podger) No, quite the reverse. I have to say, to correct your earlier suspicions, that I have told the food industry this.

  118. Not to be too unfair to you, I thought you were defending. I should expect to hear from a food manufacturer the case you have just put for putting salt in things like bread.
  (Mr Podger) With respect, it is important. The issue of palatability does arise in relation to salt in bread. What we as the Agency are anxious to do is work with the industry to drive these levels down over time to the one which still produces a product which is acceptable as a product but does not have these adverse effects you quite rightly pointed to.

  119. The best advice is to give up white bread and take other types of bread, is it not?
  (Mr Podger) It depends again on the actual amount of salt you have in your diet. I am sorry to come back to that point.

13   Note by Witness: We are spending £4 million this year on the "Are you Doing Your Bit?" campaign. The sum of £4 million, has not, as yet, been spent. Back

14   Note by Witness: The current level of sugar in standard baked beans is variable at around 6g per 100g of product. Reduced sugar baked beans have, however, been introduced in recent years with a sugar content between 3-4 grammes per 100g of product. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 August 2001