AN ongoing pickle over whether poppadoms and prawn crackers should be included in a crackdown on junk food has refused to cool down as officials failed to answer basic questions.

Scottish ministers have launched a public consultation on restricting the promotion of unhealthy foods such as confectionary, crisps, cakes, soft drinks and savoury snacks.

The plans would see “meal deals” featuring these items banned, limiting the options available to shoppers in places such as Boots and Marks & Spencer.

But despite prawn crackers and poppadoms being included on a list of targeted foods, officials insisted restaurants and takeaways giving them away for free with orders would not be affected.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Miles Briggs said it was “patently obvious the SNP government tried to change tack when it sensed negative headlines”.

He added: “That’s a completely irresponsible approach to public health.

“The SNP expects people to engage with this consultation, yet it’s not being at all clear on what is actually being proposed.

“If the nationalists want meaningful debate on what is an important issue, being honest would be a good place for them to start.”

Ministers insist banning junk food promotions would improve the nation’s health by cutting consumption of foods high in fat, sugar or salt.

Their consultation proposes sweeping curbs aimed at foods of “little or no nutritional benefit”.

Restrictions would take in marketing junk food through multi-buys, free samples, in-store advertising, checkout displays, coupons and purchase reward schemes such as toys, loyalty card points and competition entries.

The documents states “a targeted food could not be part of a meal deal”.

It continues: “If one or more were a targeted food, the products could not be sold at less than the sum of their individual prices.”

Officials would not explain why poppadoms and prawn crackers would be exempt.

And despite referring to “meal deals” in their consultation, they said main meals would not be affected by restrictions.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The document repeatedly makes clear that we are not targeting main meals.

“Main meals are widely understood to mean breakfast, lunch or dinner. Snacks are widely understood to refer to food consumed between main meals.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "The Scottish Government has the chance to send a clear message about the importance of tackling Scotland's disastrous diet but we can’t conquer our unhealthy national waistline solely by removing individual choice and freedom.

"We should be working with food production companies to rethink and reformulate and make eating healthier easier and more attractive.

"However, if consumers and restaurateurs are being asked for their opinions then ministers need to be clear about what’s on the menu.”