The National Food Strategy: Part Two was published earlier this month. And, as usual, its recommendation to tax wholesale sugar and salt hit the headlines first. But it contains a more holistic view of the UK’s health and how its intertwined with the food industry. Tax is only one part of the plan.

This report is now with the government, who will respond within six months. Although the Prime Minster has already stated that he’s unwilling to impose any new taxes.

But how will any of the recommendations affect you?

Why is the report necessary?

In the UK, three in ten adults are medically obese. Out of all the world’s wealthiest countries, this makes us the third most obese. Not the kind of chart anyone wants to highly rank in. The report references the 64,000 deaths every year that can be attributed to weight related ill health. And the increasing pressure on our country’s health resources from the many consequences of poor diets.

And then there’s the environmental impact. In order to meet its targets, the government needs to reduce the amount of heavily processed food and meat by 30%, by 2023. And increase the intake of fruit and vegetables by the same amount.

What’s my food shop got to do with the environment?

At a big picture level, everything is connected. The type and amount of food we currently eat requires swathes of the natural world to be destroyed during the process. Part of the cause of the world’s climate emergency. The result of unfettered climate change is extreme weathers, like floods and fires. They cause global food instability by disrupting food growth and distribution. And so it continues in the same frightening spiral.

If we keep buying the same foodstuffs, companies are making money and so will continue to make more. Your trolley doesn’t make much difference, individually. But look around you next time you’re queuing – add all the baskets and trolleys around the world and that’s huge influence. And this connection between human health and the welfare of our planet is not new.

Why suggest taxing sugar and salt?

In an interview with the BBC, the report’s leader, Henry Dimbleby, said: “You’re not going to break this junk food cycle, this interaction between out appetite and the commercial incentive of companies, unless you tackle it directly. And that’s what we’re recommending with the sugar and salt reformulation tax. And it’s not a tax to increase price, it’s a tax to make companies reformulate, as they did with the sugary drinks tax. Tale the bad stuff out and make the worst food better.”

The report suggests:

  • Adding £3.00 per kilo onto a bag of sugar
  • Adding £6.00 per kilo onto a bag of salt

This is onto the wholesale prices at volumes that are bought by restaurants, catering companies and processed food manufacturers. This is projected to raise £3.4 billion every year, which can be ploughed back into changing our food culture and free school meals access for 1.1 million more children.

The idea is to force reformulation, not make products more expensive for us. It’s estimated that any costs passed onto the consumer will only amount to 7p onto the price of a Mars Bar and 1p onto a bag of crisps.

It builds on the success of the sugary drinks levy and the plastic bag charge.

What other ideas are in this report?

As well as taxing wholesale salt and sugar, the report recommends a range of measures that are intended to complement each other. They include:

  • ‘Eat and learn’ schemes for schools
  • Reintroduce Food as an A-level subject
  • ‘Community Eatwell’ scheme to improve dietary knowledge and choices in economically deprived areas. Including a trial which enables GPs to actually prescribe fruit and vegetables to patients who need food security or who are ill because they don’t already form part of their diet.
  • Two of the government’s target are to meet net zero goals and to protect 30% of land for ‘nature’ by 2030. The report suggests that 5-8% of our current farmland should be decommissioned now, in order to work towards that target. The report’s evidence for this is that only 3% of calories is produced by 20% of farmland.
  • Post Brexit deals made about our food imports must meet the highest of standards, otherwise it would “mean exporting all the environmental harms we wish to avoid, while undercutting – and potentially bankrupting – our own farmers.”

What are other people saying?

Chair of The Food Standards Agency, Professor Susan Jebb, said:

“The National Food Strategy report deserves to be widely read and deeply considered by everyone with responsibilities for any part of our food system. Its compelling narrative focuses attention on the urgent challenges facing the food system and how we must work together, across government and industry, to create a system which is good for the health of people and the planet.

“I welcome the report, including its recommendations to expand the role of the Food Standards Agency. The FSA is an independent regulator, trusted to make sure food is safe and is what it says it is. Our work is led by science and evidence, but places the interests of consumers at the heart of everything we do. We look forward to discussing the report with government and other partners and collaborating with them to create a resilient, healthier and more sustainable food system.”

The shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, Luke Pollard, said: “This is a massive wake-up call to fix Britain’s broken food system … The government should be working to ensure every family can afford for their children to get a healthy hot meal every day. Britain’s high food and farming standards must be protected in law not watered down in trade deals.”

Seems like positive noises all round. We’ll have to wait and see if this translates into action in a few months time.