My role


Jamie Oliver: 'food labelling is a disgrace'

Last month TV chef and food campaigner Jamie Oliver gave evidence before the House of Commons Health Select Committee on health inequalities. During the course of it, he was quizzed on the role of the food industry by Dr Howard Stoate MP, the chair of the All-Party Group on Men's Health.


Howard StoateHoward Stoate: You said there were some fairly strong statistics around a while ago. How about this: about 70% of cancers are environmentally caused and probably one-third of cancers are to do, in one way or another, with nutrition?

Jamie Oliver: Yes.

HS: You said earlier that kids are not born to like burgers and nuggets but they are eating them. Do you think we should be doing much more in terms of forcing manufacturers to change the way they produce this food? We have talked about fast food outlets and it is difficult to control them, but we could potentially have more control over the manufacturers.

Do you think that we should do a lot more to force manufacturers, if necessary by law, to produce healthier food?

Jamie OliverJO: I think there is a fair amount of change going on at the moment. All supermarkets are doing a clean-up. I think more so at the moment. Yes, you could cap the three big ones: salt, sugar and fat.

But then you get great companies like Marmite, which has some really good nutritional features but is obviously high in salt - but you would never want to eat a kilo of Marmite, would you? - they would never be able to advertise. I would feel sorry for Marmite because I think they have got a great product, and I do not think you would want to eat it - unless you are mad - in high quantities, but they would be kiboshed by any sort of capping.

Subliminally, anyway, whether it is driven by good morals or marketing, all companies are cleaning up and trying to be more eco, more provenance based, more balanced. I am less worried about that than anything, because I think that they see value in being local, being British, and healthwise.

HS: Do you think that people have enough information about what is in their food? Do you think they understand how much fat or salt there is in a burger or a nugget or whatever?

JO: I think it is hard for anyone. It is even hard for me. Nutrition is boring.

HS: Should we not do more to try and make sure people do understand it?

JO: I think labelling in Great Britain is a disgrace. Categorically. We are run by the EU on labelling. For instance, you can have a product that says on the front of the pack "Sourced from the UK", and then on the back, in the tiniest font, "Made in Denmark".

We have just done a programme on British pork. It is probably one of the most agricultural programmes I have ever made. That comes out in January. It is an industry that is falling apart, but what is lovely is that the British public do want to buy British but they are failing to be able to be helped to support these British farmers - do you know what I mean? I think labelling is an absolute disgrace.

HS: Should we do more about that?

JO: Absolutely. I spoke to Jane Kennedy, the new Minister for Agriculture, the other day. She is new in the job but seems to be fired up and passionate to do something about it. But, again, we are run by the EU, so, as far as I am aware, it has to be ... What is the word? The supermarkets and manufacturers need to "volunteer" this good practice, but, frankly, I would rather have a standard that we all adhere to.

HS (a little later in the discussion): Just a supplementary on that, if I may, Jamie. If something, for example, says, "This contains 13% GDA saturated fat", is that good, bad or indifferent if you are a mother of three kids? I do not know and I am a doctor.

JO: I do not think people use them as much as they say they do, but what is important is that there is nothing wrong with being indulgent, but if it is clear you are being ---

HS: That is not the question. If you are a mother of three young kids and you are trying to do your best nutritionally for those kids and you are looking at the back of the packet and it says, "13% saturated fat GDA", what the hell does that mean? How does that help me to feed my kids?

JO: I totally agree, what does it mean? Do you know what, I do not even know.

HS: It is important because if you see something that is red on the front, at least I can say, "It's red" and have some degree of understanding that probably means I need to be careful about it.

JO: To be honest, if you think about the money that has been involved in this, most things that people like have got red all over it, if you judge it like that. Like hearing bad news about health in the papers and stuff like that, you kind of get fatigue where you just get used to it. If all the things that you do buy and love are red then your relationship with red is different after a few months.

HS: That is not the point. If you have got three red lights you could say, "I can balance that up with three green ones on this" and at least you have got some idea of what it means.

JO: No, I do agree.

HS: That percentage on the back, I still do not know what it actually means and I cannot even tell myself if that is good, bad or indifferent. At least if I pick up something with red on it I can say, "Okay, that's not brilliant, but if I only do that once I can do something else tomorrow that's green" and at least I know where I am. I do not know where I am with the GDAs.

JO: I totally agree. I do not want to pretend that I am expert when I am not really. There are far more important things to worry about in the world of food, nutrition and education than GDAs. I know they are important, I know they are controversial, but personally I am confused about it.

At the end of the day, it does not matter. That sort of information does not truly matter. If you have got the basic tools to be able to nourish your family then nine times out of ten you are going to get a semi-balanced meal, do you know what I mean, you will be having a bit of fish in your life, you will be having a bit of salad in your life, you will want to eat a few greens because you will know how to make them taste good. Packaging is not my speciality or passion, so I do apologise for that.


  • Transcribed by the Official Shorthand Writers to the Houses of Parliament, W B Gurney & Sons LLP, this is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. Neither witnesses nor MPs have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.
  • Full cross-examination online.

Page created on December 3rd, 2008

Page updated on December 1st, 2009