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Health Secretary casts doubt on taxing or banning of ultra-processed baby foods

‘I don’t think we should be taxing and banning things,’ Steve Barclay told MPs.

The Health Secretary has cast doubt over the possibility of taxing or banning ultra-processed baby foods, insisting “smoking is an outlier”.

Steve Barclay’s comments come after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced plans for a UK smoking ban by raising the legal smoking age by one year, every year, meaning a 14-year-old today will never legally be able to buy a cigarette.

During health questions in the Commons, Mr Barclay was asked about the Government’s strategy for addressing concerns surrounding the “misleading” marketing and labelling of ultra-processed infant and toddler foods, given the rising rates of childhood obesity.

The Health Secretary acknowledged the importance of the issue but told MPs he does not think “we should be taxing and banning things”.

He also pointed out that the Government should focus on empowering patients and recognising the financial pressures many individuals face due to the cost of living.

Conservative Suzanne Webb (Stourbridge) said: “Many commercial infant and toddlers’ foods are ultra processed, which sets alarm bells ringing as ultra-processed food is strongly associated with cardiovascular diseases.

“40% of 10 to 11-year-olds are obese.

“I strongly believe parents are being misled by companies putting health claims on ultra-processed infant food, when in fact the food is far, far anything but healthy.

“It’s high in fat, salt and sugar. What steps have been taken by the Government to address the disingenuous and grossly misleading marketing and labelling of commercial infant and toddler food and drink?”

Mr Barclay replied: “As she knows there’s no agreed definition for ultra-high processed food. And as a general principle, I don’t think we should be taxing and banning things.

“I think smoking is an outlier.

“But we have got to empower the patient and also recognise the pressures from the cost of living. But we are also rolling out anti-obesity drugs to give patients access to the most innovative drugs as part of our wider response to the challenge of obesity.”

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