Regulatory and compliance

UK government delays introduction of restrictions on foods high in fat, salt and sugar

Published on 24th May 2022

Changes in deadlines for implementation will have significant implications for businesses planning compliance measures  

The UK government has announced that key parts of its flagship legislation restricting the promotion of high fat, salt, or sugar (HSFF) food and drinks will be delayed by one year. This includes the restrictions on multibuy deals on foods and drinks (such as "buy one get one free" and "get three for the price of two") and free refills for soft drinks. Instead of coming into force in October 2022 as originally intended, the restrictions will now take effect from October 2023.

The restrictions on banning advertisements for HSFF products on TV before 9pm (also known as the 9pm watershed) and paid-for online ads are also being delayed by one year. These restrictions will now come into force in January 2024, instead of January 2023. 

Despite this, the restrictions on the locality of unhealthy foods within shops will still be enforced in accordance with the original timetabling, in October 2022. These so-called placement restrictions will also apply online, and will come into force for online e-commerce as planned on 1 October, which means there will still be implications for website owners this year.

The government has said the reason for the delay is due to the unprecedented global economic situation: the higher-than-expected global energy and goods prices which have increased supply chain costs, in turn filtering down to the consumer and elevating prices. The delay will, therefore, allow the government to review and monitor the impact of the restrictions on the cost of living for consumers. 

The delay will also allow the government to deal with any consequences of the Kellogg's judicial review before key parts of the legislation come into force.

Health campaigners have already criticised the announcement as being detrimental to tackling obesity in the UK (with one in five children leaving primary school with obesity according to the Royal College of Physicians). 

Osborne Clarke comment

The delays will have significant implications for platforms and websites that rely on paid-for advertising by food manufacturers, as they will be able to receive income for a further year from those who use their platforms to advertise HSFF products. 

However, since the rules about placement of products online will still come into force as planned, the changes will further complicate compliance: it now seems that e-commerce and other platforms will have three staggered deadlines for compliance with different parts of the HFSS legislative agenda. 

As the legislation was originally designed to come into force at the same time, businesses will need to make the decision whether to go ahead with piecemeal and complex compliance measures over an 18-month period, or whether to comply with all the requirements in advance of being legally required to do so. 

Assessing what the right decision is will depend on the commercial implications of the different sets of requirements and will involve some complicated decision-making. This is particularly so when there is always the possibility that there will be further delays, especially in light of the government's post-Brexit deregulation agenda.

This Insight was written with the assistance of Holly Baker, Trainee Solicitor.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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