National Food Strategy calls for new sugar and salt tax to help transform UK’s diet

Crisp packets in the supermarket (Shutterstock)Crisp packets in the supermarket (Shutterstock)
Crisp packets in the supermarket (Shutterstock)

The nation’s diets need to transform with people eating less sugar, salt and meat to save lives and protect the NHS and the environment, a landmark review has said.

The independent report, commissioned by the Government in 2019 calls for a sugar and salt reformulation tax to cut their use in products and curb obesity, strokes and heart disease.

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At a glance: 5 key points

  • The new review has warned what the people eat, and how it is produced is doing “terrible damage” to the environment and health, contributing to 64,000 deaths a year in England and driving wildlife loss and climate change.
  • The review has suggested sugar and salt should be taxed to encourage suppliers to cut the use in products to curb obesity, strokes and heart disease. The report claims more than half of over-45’s now live with diet-related health conditions.
  • Some money raised by the tax should be spent on addressing the inequalities around food, such as expanding free school meals to another 1.1 million children who need them, funding holiday activity and food clubs, and providing healthy food to low income families.
  • The report warned disease caused by poor diets cost the economy an estimated £74 billion a year, and puts a huge strain on the NHS, while the food we eat accounts for around a quarter of greenhouse gases and is the leading driver of habitat and wildlife loss
  • The 290-page report, led by Leon co-founder Henry Dimbleby, was commissioned by the Government in 2019. The Government has promised to respond to the findings with a White Paper within six months.

What's been said

Author of the report Henry Dimbleby said: “The food system is a logistical miracle, full of amazing, inventive people.

“With the right leadership from government, it is well within our power to change the system so it makes both us and the planet healthier.

“Currently, however, the way we produce food is doing terrible damage to the environment and to our bodies, and putting an intolerable strain on the NHS.

“Covid 19 has been a painful reality check.

“Our high obesity rate has been a major factor in the UK’s tragically high death rate.

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“We must now seize the moment to build a better food system for our children and grandchildren.”

Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said the report was a massive wake-up call to fix Britain’s broken food system.

“But this Government have proved incapable of ending the growing foodbank scandal and the obesity crisis, while their trade deals betray our British farmers,” he said.

“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.

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“We need a radical obesity strategy, ensuring families are able to access healthy food, supporting local leisure facilities and tackling rising child poverty.”

The report has been backed by campaigners including TV chef Jamie Oliver who said: “This is no time for half-hearted measures.

“If both government and businesses are willing to take bold action and prioritise the public’s health, then we have an incredible opportunity to create a much fairer and more sustainable food system for all families.

“Of course it’s right every child should have access to healthy and affordable food, no matter where they live and last year has been a stark reminder that nutritious meals are vital in keeping us all healthy and resilient.”