Kellogg has lost a High Court legal challenge over new UK government regulations that will restrict high-sugar breakfast cereals from being displayed prominently in supermarkets.
The US manufacturer of Frosties, Rice Krispies and Coco Pops brought a judicial review, challenging the legality of the rules aimed at tackling childhood obesity.
The regulations, which are due to take effect later this year, curb the promotion in stores and online of “less healthy” food, which is classified as high in fat, sugar or salt. The majority of Kellogg’s breakfast cereal products will be classified as “less healthy”, assuming it does not take steps to reduce the levels of sugar, fat or salt in those products.
In the High Court case, Kellogg’s said the new regime — which assesses the nutrient profile of breakfast cereals — failed to take into account the fact the cereals were typically consumed with milk. It also challenged the way the rules were introduced, claiming it had not had proper parliamentary scrutiny.
However, Mr Justice Thomas Linden on Monday ruled against Kellogg’s, saying the public health case for the new regulations was “compelling” and “proportionate”.
Kellogg’s argued in the High Court challenge that the regulations would hit sales because it made extensive use of agreements with supermarkets to place its products near the checkout or at the end of aisles.
Whether a product is classified as “less healthy” depends on a score given by the UK Food Standards Agency’s nutrient profiling model, which analyses the nutrient content of a given product per 100g of the food or drink itself, rather than taking account of what the food or drink may be consumed with.
Kellogg’s argued that the government’s approach, which measures the relative levels of fat, sugar or salt in the product itself, rather than as it is typically consumed, was disproportionate and irrational.
However, the judge said cereal manufacturers had ample opportunity in past public consultations to raise the so-called milk issue and noted there was an “epidemic of childhood obesity”.
“In my view, this is a case in which a significant degree of deference should be accorded to the decision maker(s),” he added.
Kellogg’s does not plan to appeal. Chris Silcock, UK managing director, said the company still believed “it is important that cereals are measured in a way which reflects how most people eat them — with milk”, and that Kellogg’s remained concerned at the way the government had introduced the regulations.
“By restricting the placement of items in supermarkets, people face less choice and potentially higher prices,” he added.
The Department of Health and Social Care welcomed the judgment, saying “the government is committed to tackling obesity, which is the second-biggest cause of cancer in the UK and costs the NHS billions of pounds a year”.
Source: Financial Times