The National Food Strategy has arrived
Henry Dimbleby’s independent review of the UK’s food system outlines a strategy to protect the health of our bodies and our planet
On 15 July, Henry Dimbleby released his National Food Strategy, a landmark independent review of the UK's food system. It assesses how food is produced, from farm to fork, and sets out the changes needed to improve our health, protect the NHS and save the environment.
We were delighted to be involved, sharing our expertise on salt, sugar and health, and the benefits of a salt and sugar reform tax.
Read the full review, watch a brilliant animation explaining the problems we have overcome in the past that show we can do it again, and hear from Henry Dimbleby.
Poor diets, including those made up of heavily-processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat, contribute to an estimated 64,000 deaths every year in England alone. The global population is growing, as are the rates of obesity and inequalities between rich and poor. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable our diets have made us as individuals and as a nation.
The National Food Strategy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink our diets and food production. It sets out practical recommendations for creating a more sustainable, resilient and healthier food system with changes from us as individuals, the Government, food manufacturers and food producers.
The strategy contains 14 recommendations to meet four key objectives:
- Escape the Junk Food Cycle and protect the NHS
- Reduce diet-related inequality
- Make the best use of our land
- Create a long-term shift in our food culture
The 14 objectives set out a number of ways to impact our health and the environment in the foreseeable future. For example, lowering salt and sugar intake, improving access to healthy foods, especially for children, eating more plant-based foods instead of meat and improving animal welfare.
In particular, the strategy recommends that the Government introduces a £3/Kg tax on sugar and a £6/Kg tax on salt sold for use in processed foods, restaurants and catering businesses to create an incentive for manufacturers to add less sugar and salt to their products.
This would lower the average sugar intake by 4g per person per day and the average salt intake by 0.2g – 0.6g per person per day. This salt reduction would go a long way to lowering our blood pressure, as salt directly raises blood pressure and we currently eat at least 2g more than the recommended 6g/day maximum.
CEOs of food companies have indicated that it’s necessary for the Government to make such levy’s mandatory to create a level playing field, whereby all companies make changes so that none are at a disadvantage.
- Introduce a sugar and salt reformulation tax. Use some of the revenue to help get fresh fruit and vegetables to low income families.
- Introduce mandatory reporting for large food companies. Supermarkets have said they would support this.
- Launch a new “Eat and Learn” initiative for schools. This aims to improve education in schools.
- Extend eligibility for free school meals.
- Fund the Holiday Activities and Food programme for the next three years
- Expand the Healthy Start scheme
- Trial a “Community Eatwell” Programme, supporting those on low incomes to improve their diets.
- Guarantee the budget for agricultural payments until at least 2029 to help farmers transition to more sustainable land use.
- Create a Rural Land Use Framework based on the Three Compartment Model
- Define minimum standards for trade, and a mechanism for protecting them.
- Invest £1 billion in innovation to create a better food system.
- Create a National Food System Data programme.
- Strengthen Government procurement rules to ensure that tax payer money is spent on healthy and sustainable food.
- Set clear targets and bring in legislation for long term change.
Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Blood Pressure UK and Action on Salt says: “If ever there was an opportunity to finally transform our food system to save lives – this is it – especially the call for a landmark Salt Reformulation Tax which will make the UK the first country in the world to have a mandatory salt levy.
“Not only will the tax incentivise further innovation and reformulation, such as the use of potassium chloride – which is less harmful to health than conventional salt, it will build a better food system for a healthier nation. Previous attempts by the government to encourage voluntary reformulation have failed which is why more fiscal measures are urgently needed to address the country’s shocking health inequalities. The question is, are food manufacturers willing to make their food healthier by reformulating?"
Hemini Bharadia, Marketing Manager at Blood Pressure UK says: “There is no time to waste now in terms of our health as people and the health of the planet. The National Food Strategy is not only timely but it’s a thorough and well thought out plan of how we can all play our part in producing and consuming healthy, sustainable food. It is essential that individuals, food manufacturers, food producers and the Government all do their bit now to improve our health, our environment, and not least our blood pressure.”