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9 October 2005 - The Sunday Times - Open letter to the prime minister

Jonathan Leake

More than 20 of Britain's top chefs and food writers, including Gary Rhodes and Sophie Grigson, have sent an open letter to Tony Blair this week demanding ministers do more to prevent advertising of junk food to children.

This has come about as a result of BURGER KING, Britain's second-biggest fast food chain, having snubbed the government's attempts to reduce levels of salt, fat and sugar in food to make it healthier. It has pulled out of a joint initiative between the food industry and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to reformulate fast foods to make them less unhealthy. The chain will instead concentrate on making its burgers and other products as "tasty" as it can - a decision that will mean no further cuts in salt, fat or sugar.

Rather than promoting healthy foods, the company is considering selling the "Enormous Omelette Sandwich", a product recently launched in America. It offers 740 calories and 4.9 grams of salt comprising two slices of cheese, two eggs, three strips of bacon and a sausage patty on a bun.

The decision is a serious threat to the consensus that has emerged after two years of talks between the food industry, the FSA and the Department of Health. Those talks recently led to 50 retailers and manufacturers, excluding Burger King, agreeing to phased cuts in the amounts of salt added to a range of processed foods including bread, ready meals, breakfast cereals and cured meats.

The talks on salt were intended to pave the way towards similar voluntary reductions in levels of fat and sugar. From this weekend, however, that consensus could break down because Burger King's competitors will fear the 700-restaurant chain could gain a competitive advantage if its products get a reputation for being tastier.

Such a rift has long been predicted by groups campaigning for healthier food who say that legislation is required because the food industry will never voluntarily do anything that puts sales and profits at risk.

The letter:

Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street

12 October 2005

Dear Tony

An open letter to the Prime Minister seeking support for the Children's Food Bill

We are writing to ask you to support the Children's Food Bill in its passage through Parliament. As food writers and broadcasters, chefs and promoters of good food, we believe that this Bill can turn around the decline in children's diets over the last 20 years. We stand alongside 150 national organisations, over 200 cross-party MPs and many thousands of concerned parents who already support the Bill.

Jamie's School Dinners highlighted the dire state of school food and we welcome recent Government announcements to introduce minimum nutritional standards and remove junk food from school vending machines. But there is still much more to do. Providing healthy, freshly cooked food on children's plates will require a kitchen in every school, training for catering staff, as well as funding for wholesome ingredients and the time for their preparation.

If we are to change children's attitudes to food, the Government must now act to end junk food advertising and promotions which influence children's food choices and undermine their health. And to stop the scandal of children leaving school knowing only how to open a packet or a tin, cooking and other practical food skills must become part of the school curriculum for every child.

As a father, you know how important healthy, good and enjoyable food is to the development of children. Making the Children's Food Bill law will ensure that all children - wherever they live and whatever their backgrounds - benefit from better food. They deserve nothing less.

Yours sincerely

Patrick Anthony, Food writer and broadcaster
Annie Bell, Food writer, Country Living, Mail on Sunday
Raymond Blanc, Chef and restaurateur
Richard, Earl of Bradford, Food writer and restaurateur
Jill Dupleix, Food writer, The Times
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Food writer and broadcaster
Peter Gordon, Chef and food writer
Felicity Green, Food writer
Henrietta Green, Food writer and organiser of Food Lovers Fairs
Sophie Grigson, Food writer and broadcaster
Fiona Hamilton-Fairley, Food writer and Principal of Kids' Cookery School
Richard Johnson, Food writer and broadcaster
Sue Lawrence, Food writer and President of the Guild of Food Writers
Jeanette Orrey, Author and award-winning dinner lady
Marguerite Patten OBE, Food writer and presenter
Gary Rhodes, Chef, restaurateur, food writer and broadcaster
Nigel Slater, Food writer
Rick Stein, Chef, restaurateur, food writer and broadcaster
Jane Suthering, Food writer and Vice-President of the Guild of Food Writers
Mitchell Tonks, Food writer and restaurateur
Mitzie Wilson, Editor, Delicious magazine
Elisabeth Winkler, Writer and editor, Living Earth, Soil Association magazine
Antony Worrall Thompson, Chef, restaurateur, food writer and broadcaster