Government-commissioned food industry report slams trade deals for outsourcing environmental damage

Thu 15 Jul 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

british food

The government has been accused of “outsourcing environmental damage” through trade deals that do not uphold the UK’s standards, in the country’s first major review of its food system in more than 75 years.

The National Food Strategy – an independent review commissioned by the government and published today (15 July) – lays out suggestions for improving the health of the British people while enhancing the country’s environmental standards, reports the FT.

Climate commitments

Chair Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon restaurants, said: “The government appears to be heading in a direction on trade that not only means it will break its own manifesto commitments, but will undermine the huge efforts it is making domestically to mitigate climate change, restore nature and improve animal welfare”.

As reported in IOE&IT Daily Update, the recent trade deal with Australia was heavily criticised by British farmers for potentially allowing imports of lower standard meats from down under to undercut domestic produce.

There have also been concerns that deals with countries such as the US and Brazil could come at the cost of accepting lower standards for food imports into the country.

Reformulation 

Dimbleby’s report claims the food we eat is “doing terrible damage to our planet and to our health” and sets out a range of policies to improve public health and ease pressure on the NHS.

According to the Telegraph, the report suggests a “reformulation levy” that would result in the world’s first taxes on the sugar and salt used in food production in a bid to break the “junk food cycle”.

It also recommends a 30% cut in meat consumption, although no meat taxes are proposed yet.

Flooded

The report also says that the government must clarify plans for implementing the Agriculture Bill and for preventing imports produced using lower environmental standards, reports edie.net.

The report says: “It makes no sense for politicians, farmers and manufacturers in this country to put in all the work necessary to create a sustainable domestic food system, only to find the market flooded with food imports produced in ways that cause environmental devastation abroad.”

Farmers also require more detail about the implementation of the new Environmental Land Management policy (ELM) which has replaced the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Mixed response

The report has received a mixed response with the Royal Society for Public Health and Greenpeace broadly supportive, while the Food and Drink Federation said the taxes would make food more expensive for firms that are struggling with post-Brexit rules.

“These taxes will not drive reformulation. Food and drink manufacturers have been voluntarily lowering fat, salt and sugars in recipes for decades,” said FDF chief scientific officer, Kate Halliwell.

Price impact

Conservative think-tanks The Taxpayers’ Alliance, Adam Smith Institute and Institute of Economic Affairs claim the taxes would see an average family food bill rise by £172 annually.

The National Food Strategy estimates its recommendations will cost around £1.4bn a year but also bring in up to £3.4bn a year in new revenues, which could be spent on encouraging better eating among low income families and expanding free school meal schemes.