UK: National Food Strategy calls for sugar/salt tax and investment in alternative proteins

Report advises UK consumers to drastically change their eating habits to “protect the future food system”
Illustration of UK food and drink
UK consumers must rethink their dietary habits, says independent National Food Strategy report

The UK Government-commissioned National Food Strategy review has called for a sugar and salt reformulation tax to kerb the production of ultra-processed foods in the UK.

The proposed tax would see food and drinks manufacturers and foodservice operators pay £3 per kilogram of sugar used and £6 per kilogram of salt used, resulting in up to £3.4 billion a year being paid to the Treasury as of 2024.

In the report, co-founder of UK food chain Leon Henry Dimbleby has sought to provide a plan to protect the future of the UK’s food system and support the government’s pledge to reach a net zero carbon footprint by 2050.

He criticised UK consumers’ unsustainable diet habits, calling for a stricter approach to ultra-processed foods and significant investment in alternative proteins.

Dimbleby has advised the government to spend £1 billion on innovation in the UK food industry, including a ‘Challenge Fund’ worth £500 million to be spent on developing new ways to grow food, including vertical farming and precision fermentation.

He called for a further £125 million to go towards supporting entrepreneurs developing alternative proteins.

“We believe the government would be better off nudging consumers into changing their habits, while investing in methane-reduction projects and the development of alternative proteins,” the report said.

“In much the same way that multiple state interventions have made renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels, this would create a shift in behaviour without the need for an unpopular and regressive tax,” it continued.

Dimbleby highlighted data from 2018 that estimated the fruit and vegetable market in the UK was worth £2.2 billion, while confectionary, a small segment of the processed-food market, was worth almost double at £4.2 billion.

Elsewhere, the National Food Strategy called for mandatory reporting by companies on sales of food and drink in high fat, sugar or salt categories.

Under the recommendation, all food companies with over 250 employees would be required to report these details in an annual review to Parliament, alongside sales figures for fruit, vegetable and major nutrients like protein and fibre.

Released in July 2020, part one of the report prompted the government to better support lower- income households in improving their diet.

The government has since acted on four of Dimblebly’s recommendations, including extending the Holiday Activities and Food programme to all children in England, providing cooking lessons, hot food and advice on preparing healthy meals during the summer and Christmas holidays.

However, the government has not implemented Dimbleby’s recommendations on trade and expanding the free school meal benefit to all children from households receiving Universal Credit.