Cups of hot sweet tea, packs of organic rice cakes, small bags of raisins, cheese and tomato sandwiches and drinking yogurts are just some of the products that are deemed ‘unhealthy’ and are now banned from hospital vending machines in Wales thanks to new regulations introduced by Health Ministers.
The new regulations are so restrictive that the Welsh Assembly Government is being urged to rethink its whole approach to vending by a coalition of leading business organisations comprising the Automatic Vending Association; British Soft Drinks Association; British Cheese Board, British Sandwich Association; CBI Wales, Dairy UK; Food and Drink Federation; National Farmers’ Union Cymru; and the Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers Association.
Coalition members are also hosting a fringe event at the Welsh Conservative Party conference to debate whether the regulations reduce choice too far; what they mean for people who work in hospitals or visit relatives; and what this policy approach will achieve for public health.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that Ministers have decided to use the Food Standards Agency’s nutrient profiling model to underpin their regulations, despite the fact this particular tool was developed originally with the sole purpose of supporting Ofcom’s rules on TV advertising to children. The Food Standards Agency itself advised Welsh Ministers against the use of the tool in relation to vending in hospitals – but its advice was rejected.
Julian Hunt, Food and Drink Federation Director of Communications, said: “Our coalition fully supports the Welsh Assembly Government’s objective of working to improve hospital food and nutrition, and we appreciate it’s important to look into hospital catering overall. But these new regulations are so badly drafted that they will not lead to the development of ‘healthy vending’ but will effectively mean that vending will no longer be viable in Welsh hospitals.”
Janette Gledhill, Director of the Automatic Vending Association, said: “Arguably, the regulations will have the biggest impact on hospital staff who work long hours and often want to buy food and drink products at times when canteens are shut. It seems daft that someone working a 12-hour shift is not now allowed to enjoy their break period by relaxing with a cup of hot, sweet tea and a Fairtrade fruity cereal bar bought from a vending machine.”
Dai Davies, President of NFU Cymru, said: “We have joined this pan-industry vending coalition because this is an issue that concerns everybody in the food chain – from farmers to manufacturers to hospital catering providers. We urge the Welsh Assembly Government to listen to the coalition’s concerns and review the regulations in close consultation with all stakeholders.”