Ultra-processed foods

Intervention has to be evidence-based

Sir, – In “Fixing our food system and climate crisis together” (Environment, July 20th), you advance the case that ultra-processed foods (UPF) are at the root of our existing diet-related disease. In recent months, two high-level, independent scientific advisory committees on diet and health have issued their scientific opinions on UPF to their respective governments, one in the UK and one for the Nordic countries.

The UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) concluded thus (July 2023): “The observed associations between higher consumption of (ultra-) processed foods and adverse health outcomes are concerning, however, the limitations in the Nova classification system, the potential for confounding, and the possibility that the observed adverse associations with (ultra-) processed foods are covered by existing UK dietary recommendations, mean that the evidence to date needs to be treated with caution”.

The Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2023 committee concluded thus (June, 2023): “Despite the observed association between ultra-processed food and health outcomes, the NNR2023 Committee decided not to formulate any specific recommendations on ultra-processed foods. NNR2023 includes several recommendations related to specific processing of foods. The NNR committee’s view is that the categorization of foods as ultra-processed foods does not add to the already existing food classifications and recommendations in NNR2023.”

We may all agree that food and climate are utterly inter-linked and we may also agree that both need significant governmental intervention. But that intervention has to be evidence-based and that evidence must pass muster with expert advisory committees whose track record in formulating dietary advice is impeccable.


The tasks ahead are challenging and populist solutions will do more harm than good. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus,

Institute of Food and Health,

University College Dublin,

Dublin 4.