COLUMN: John Shearer

THE Scottish Government is gambling – and spending a great deal of taxpayers’ money – on hoping campaigns to instruct voters how to live their lives will be successful.

First it was smoking, then alcohol – and now a range of obesity controls are being considered by including calorie information on menus and “calorie capping”.

Producing pub and restaurant food is more complex than just guessing how many calories are in a dish. More focus should be directed on educating the population in understanding nutrition before you try to control their habits.

One of the areas I would personally support is educating customers on their choice of children’s menus. How many times are we asked, when offering a smaller portion from the main menu: do you have any pizza or chicken nuggets?

This is surely the starting point in food and nutrition education. Healthy children’s menus made up from the local ingredients generally on offer on the main menu are far better than the frozen, fried alternative.

The Scottish Government also needs to consider supporting small businesses in providing funds for the production of new menus and so on because we need to advertise these healthy alternatives and healthy nutrition messages. The government must also consider that by introducing more administration and regulation, costs will rise – and that means higher prices for customers.

At the moment the hospitality industry has to charge 20% VAT on food sales in comparison to our European neighbours such as Ireland (9%), France (8%) and Germany (8%).

Reducing VAT on food in this sector would encourage people to eat out and help the industry to promote healthier options and keep costs down.

Surely there is room here to support the retail food and drink industry and improve the nation’s diet at the same time? The Irish licensed trade has proved to its government that you collect more revenue at 9% than you do at 20%.

The Scottish Government has an opportunity to think outside the lunch box to a system that actually produces results without strangling small business. Food for thought!

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