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UK Food Review calls for sugar and salt tax

LONDON – With England trapped in what it calls a vicious cycle of junk food consumption, the authors of a government-commissioned study of the country’s food industry have put sugar and salt in their sights .

The independent review, which was released on Thursday, calls for a long list of ideas to improve the country’s eating habits, including a tax on sugar and salt, with the proceeds being used to ship fresh fruits and vegetables to the poorest families, while allowing doctors to prescribe fruits and vegetables and require food companies to report the breakdown of their sales by nutrition.

“The Covid-19 pandemic provided a painful check on reality,” the review authors wrote, noting that obesity rates had contributed to the high number of deaths in Britain during the pandemic. “It is widely recognized that we urgently need to change our national diet. “

The stakes are high: A poor diet contributes to around 64,000 deaths in England each year, according to the study, with type 2 diabetes set to cost the National Health Service $ 20 billion a year by around 2035.

Government officials have said they will respond to the review in six months in an official white paper, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not appear enthusiastic when questioned by reporters on Thursday. “I am not, I must say, drawn to the idea of ​​additional taxes on hardworking people,” he said, although he said there was “no doubt that there was good ideas”.

The review, which consulted 300 food, agriculture and health groups and was authored by Henry Dimbleby, the founder of the Leon restaurant chain, which serves what he calls healthy fast food and more sustainable, called for a wide variety of changes to tackle diet and health inequalities and tackle climate change.

But it is a proposed tax on sugar (about $ 2 a pound) and salt (about double) used in processed foods or provided by restaurants or caterers that has attracted the most attention and raised the issue. strongest reactions.

The Food Foundation, which was consulted in the review, called the tax a “thrilling proposition”, adding that childhood obesity levels in Britain were at a critical level and had not declined in recent years, and that the nation has the ability to “pivot the food system to protect human and planetary health.”

Britain introduced a tax on sugary drinks three years ago, and researchers found that this led beverage makers to reduce the sugar content of their products. A salt tax – a world first – would have a similar effect, prompting food manufacturers to reformulate their foods where voluntary attempts have failed, Graham MacGregor said, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University and Chairman of the Action on Salt advocacy group.

But food manufacturing groups have said consumers will ultimately have to pay the cost of taxes, an unfair demand for businesses that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“A tax on salt and sugar will ultimately have an impact on families who are already struggling to make ends meet by making food and drinks more expensive,” said Kate Halliwell, scientific director of the Food and Drink Federation. .

Conservative groups denounced the proposal as interference and said it would increase the price of basic goods like jam, cereals and candy. A group, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, predicted that the changes could cost some households extra $ 238 per year.

The report acknowledged that the tax would most likely increase the prices of some products, but said the $ 4 billion a year it raised could be used to benefit poorer households. Proceeds could be spent on expanding eligibility for free meal programs for students, subsidizing the delivery of more fresh food to low-income families and programs that allow primary care physicians to prescribe fruit. and vegetables.

“It is not a tax to raise prices,” Mr Dimbleby told the BBC, “it is a tax to force companies to reformulate.”

The report also examined the effect of subsistence farming practices on climate change, calling for financial support for farmers trying to switch to greener farming practices. Extreme weather events and catastrophic harvest failures, he said, would lead to the “next big shock to our food supply”.

The review stopped before calling for a meat tax, describing the idea as “politically impossible” and too punitive for poorer households, but urged the government to invest in alternative proteins. Other recommendations included mandatory reports on the distribution of food sales by nutritional value and better education on cooking and food nutrition in schools.

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