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Trade deals may undermine oral health

To highlight the impact future trade deals may have on the government’s plans to tackle obesity in England, and how oral health is set to lose out, we have added our support to Sustain’s Trick or Trade campaign this World Obesity Day (4 March).

Sustain’s Trick or Trade campaign

New research by the London School of Economics, found evidence that demands from future trade partners could lead to a flood of cheap, unhealthy foods into the UK, and that some standard trade deal clauses could threaten plans to halve childhood obesity by 2030.

Several countries currently negotiating new trade agreements with the UK, such as the US, Canada and Australia, are home to multinational food corporations and so have a strategic interest in increasing their junk food sales. The researchers found evidence that the US has already requested reduction on tariffs on food produce and that some of the biggest winners from the EU-Canada trade deal (which has been rolled over for the UK) were producers of sugar, confectionery and cereals.

We lobbied for many years for the sugar tax, and continue to call for its expansion to include milk-based drinks and other products, to encourage reformulation as well as behaviour change amongst consumers.

BDA Chair Eddie Crouch said: “Tooth decay is already the number one reason for child hospital admissions. With COVID set to send health inequalities into overdrive, Ministers must not open the floodgates to products that will further undermine the nation's health.”

The government plans to limit junk food advertising, introduce mandatory traffic light labelling, and ban the sale of energy drinks to children could all be put at risk, unless the UK specifically makes protection of public health one of its core negotiating objectives.

Researchers also provide evidence to show that some trading partners, such as the United States, have taken other countries to court when they attempt to put policies in place to promote healthier eating, for example attaching labels about sugar content to food.

We will continue to call for radical action to lower the nation's sugar intake, with measures ranging from lowering the recommended daily allowance, through to action on marketing, labelling, and sales taxes, and supervised tooth brushing schemes for younger children, all to help prevent tooth decay.