The government has been accused of kicking dairy farmers while they are down after its official food guide recommended almost halving dairy intake.
The latest Eatwell Guide, the UK government’s official guide about which foods we should eat to maintain a healthy diet, recommends reducing the percentage of dairy in the diet to 8%, down from a previous figure of 15%.
In addition, the guide recommends people should consume “some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks) choosing lower-fat and lower-sugar options”.
In addition, the guide gives a prominent position to fruit, vegetables and starchy carbohydrates, preferably wholegrain. It recommends that five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables should be consumed each day.
The Eatwell Guide, published by government agency Public Health England (PHE) on Thursday (17 March), replaces the Eatwell Plate.
Reacting to the revised guide, Terry Jones, director-general of the Provision Trade Federation (PTF), said it was a “kick in the teeth” for hard-pressed dairy farmers, struggling to cope with milk prices below the cost of production.
“I find it staggering that at a time when ministers are expressing their support for the sector, an executive agency of government should not only put out a message that will encourage consumers to reduce their consumption of dairy products, but also seemingly ignore the positive role they can play in public health,” added Mr Jones, who will begin a new role as director-general of the NFU in April.
“While the near-halving of dairy’s contribution to the diet in Public Health England’s new Eatwell Guide represents a kick in the teeth for our beleaguered dairy industry, it’s the prominent recommendation of soya products in the guide that really sticks the boot in.”
Dairy UK, a trade association that represents the interests of producer co-ops, milk processors, dairy farmers and doorstep deliverymen, described the revised Eatwell Guide as “both baffling and disappointing”.
Judith Bryans, chief executive of Dairy UK, said: “It is genuinely disconcerting to see the dairy food group being disadvantaged by a public health campaign.
“At a time when obesity is a real crisis for children and adults alike, nutrient-dense wholefoods such as dairy products should be put front and centre in dietary guidelines.
“Furthermore, dairy products are used in 98% of homes around the UK and only yesterday chancellor George Osborne in his Budget speech excluded dairy products from the sugar tax.”
Dr Bryans added that PHE’s decision goes against a series of recent public announcements and reports that show a better understanding by government and parliamentarians of the role milk and dairy products have in a healthy and balanced diet .
These included the latest Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition report on carbohydrates and human health, the recent Dairy All-Party Parliamentary Group recommendations on dairy and public health as well as the government’s recognition of dairy products’ nutritional value through their exemption from the upcoming sugar tax.
“The message has been clear – dairy products should be celebrated and promoted,” Dr Bryans said. “Looking outside our borders, a long list of countries such as France, Canada, Australia and many more have had successful three-a-day dairy consumption programmes for years, which all emphasise the importance of dairy foods.”