The government is to delay a ban on “buy one get one free” deals on junk food and a pre-9pm watershed for TV advertising, as Boris Johnson puts the cost of living crisis before a promise to tackle the UK’s growing obesity problem.
The prime minister is understood to have decided to delay the implementation of the policies by at least a year – and potentially scrap them altogether – after chairing a ministerial meeting seeking ideas to help alleviate the cost of living crisis on Wednesday.
The decision to postpone the new measures, which were designed to be some of the toughest marketing restrictions in the world, immediately drew criticism from health campaigners.
Jamie Oliver, a longtime campaigner for healthy eating, said that Johnson needed to show “real leadership” and stop making excuses for not forging ahead with the national anti-obesity strategy.
“This is a wasted opportunity and it starts to erode the whole obesity strategy,” he said. “Policies like restricting junk food advertising to kids are crucial for levelling up and popular with the public.
“Parents and kids don’t want to hear any more excuses from the government. I really hope the prime minister proves me wrong and shows real leadership to give young people a healthier and fairer future.”
The ban on “Bogof” promotions was due to come into force from October, but as households struggle to cope with soaring energy bills and with inflation at a 40-year high, scrapping cheap offers is now seen as a risky political move.
According to multiple sources the government will still push ahead with a ban on junk food promotions in certain high-profile store locations, such as at aisle ends, checkouts and entrances, as well as prominent positions in supermarket apps and websites.
Last month, Kellogg’s, the owner of cereals such as Coco Pops and Special K, launched legal action against the government over the rules would prevent the brand from promoting some of its products prominently on shelves.
The government is also delaying the implementation of a ban on TV adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar before 9pm, which was due to come into force from January. It is also thought that the delay will extend to plans to ban junk food advertising online.
The timeline for introducing the ban on TV and online adverts was already under pressure as the government has not yet launched a consultation on how the ban would work, such as penalties for breaking it. It is understood there was already a mechanism built into the plans to potentially delay the start of the ban.
Boris Johnson is said to have been convinced by ministers that the bans would be extremely costly to the food and advertising industries at a time when the economy is under intense pressure, according to the Times, which first reported the government’s plans to delay.
More than £600m is spent by brands on food advertising online and on TV annually. The ban on TV adverts for foods high in fat, salt and sugar before 9pm could have cost broadcasters, such as ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky, more than £200m a year in revenue.
“Obesity is spiking and millions of families can’t afford to put proper food on the table,” said Barbara Crowther of the Children’s Food Campaign. “Multi-buy offers make people spend more on junk, and less on healthy food. This delay threatens the UK target to halve childhood obesity by 2030. Boris is playing politics with our children’s health.”