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The regulation and enforcement of nutrition and health claims for food

Patel, Ajay (2015) The regulation and enforcement of nutrition and health claims for food. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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The regulation of food is a contested domain (Ansell and Vogel, 2006). Who should bear responsibility for manufacture, distribution, sale and supply and consumption of the food we consume is one of the overriding political questions of our time. The legal, moral and political authority for the regulation of food faces challenges and is subject to intense negotiation. This study sets out to explore one small part of this multifaceted and global debate. The regulation of nutrition and health claims represents a concentrated area of the broader treatise. Nutrition and health claims are common in commercial communications used in the promotion of food. The use of such claims is strictly controlled by the Nutrition and Health Claims (England) Regulation 2007 and much has been written about the rationale for the Regulation. By contrast, the study of the enforcement of the Regulation is relatively neglected. The original contribution to knowledge made by this work is the finding that the enforcement of the regulation relies on the application of the broad discretion allowed to local authority enforcers and this results in variances in enforcement style. Notwithstanding such differences in style, one clear theme emerged: that enforcers largely deploy an accommodative approach based on advice rather than a deterrent approach reliant on prosecution. The study adopts a qualitative methodology with semi-structured interviews of those responsible for the enforcement of the law, namely trading standards officers and environmental health officers to assess their views and attitudes. It was found that factors affecting the application of the discretion ranged from the local priorities of the authority and the availability of resources to effectively control the use of such claims. While the discretion allowed for authorities to respond to the particular needs of their community, it makes for a ‘postcode lottery’ in differences in the way in which the same claims that are used across multiple authorities are enforced. It was found that in common with other legislation where enforcement is ceded to local authorities, the system of enforcement would benefit from greater consistency of practice.

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