Cereal maker Kellogg is launching a legal challenge against new UK government rules on nutrition that will restrict advertising and promotion of foods high in fat, salt and sugar.
The US-based multinational group, whose cereals include Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies, will on Wednesday argue that authorities have wrongly excluded the effect of adding milk to the nutritional balance of its foods in their assessments.
Tough rules that ban television advertising of less healthy products before 9pm, restrict their display in shops and bar “buy one get one free” offers are due to come into force in England on October 1.
Kellogg will argue that the government’s interpretation of the rules unfairly penalises its products. The regulations consider foods’ nutritional balance as supplied, not with the milk that typically accompanies them.
The new regime encountered opposition when it was being drawn up last year, with some ministers arguing the health benefits were marginal and the rules would impose unwarranted restrictions on companies.
The Department of Health and Social Care is expected to argue that the regulations are an appropriate response to the damage that sugar in breakfast cereals does to people’s health.
“Breakfast cereals contribute 7 per cent — a significant amount — to the average daily free sugar intakes of children,” the department said on Wednesday. “Restricting the promotion and advertising of less healthy foods is an important part of the cross-government strategy to halve childhood obesity by 2030, prevent harmful diseases and improve healthy life expectancy, so we can continue to level up health across the nation.”
The hearing, before Mr Justice Linden in London, is expected to last two days.
Chris Silcock, Kellogg’s UK managing director, said the company believed the formula being used by the government to measure the nutritional value of breakfast cereals was wrong and not implemented lawfully.
“It measures cereals dry when they are almost always eaten with milk,” Silcock said. “All of this matters because, unless you take account of the nutritional elements added when cereal is eaten with milk, the full nutritional value of the meal is not measured.”
Kellogg had tried to have a “reasonable conversation” with Westminster about making the requested change but had failed, Silcock added.
“We now find ourselves doing something which we really didn’t want to have to do which is to go to court to get the formula changed so that it reflects how people eat our food in real life,” he said.
The rules will prevent the display of foods assessed as having an inappropriately high proportion of fat or sugar in the most prominent positions in stores, such as by entrances, by checkouts or at the ends of aisles.
Kellogg argues that because 92 per cent of its cereals are consumed with milk or yoghurt, it makes little sense to assess their nutritional value based solely on the nutritional value of the product on its own.
The DHSC estimates that obesity costs the NHS £6bn a year and that the condition is the second-biggest cause of cancers after smoking.