Boris Johnson kills off sugar tax hours after report No10 commissioned recommends it

15 July 2021, 13:27

Boris Johnson killed off the key sugar tax proposal in the National Food Strategy report.
Boris Johnson killed off the key sugar tax proposal in the National Food Strategy report. Picture: Andrew Parsons

By Joe Cook

Boris Johnson has poured cold water on the recommendations of a report the government commissioned into food and obesity just hours after it was released, indicating he is opposed to imposing a salt and sugar tax.

A tax on salt and sugar was one of the key proposals of a major independent review of food policy, commissioned by the Conservative government in 2019.

The National Food Strategy warned what we 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.

It also warned the way food is consumed at the moment is putting 'intolerable strain' on the NHS and costing the economy an estimated £74bn a year.

Read more: National Food Strategy calls for salt and sugar tax and veg on prescription

The report was published on Thursday morning by Boris Johnson's food tsar, Henry Dimbleby, the founder of restaurant chain Leon. 

But by midday, at question and answer session following a speech in Coventry, the prime minister appeared to kill off the idea of a salt and sugar tax, telling reporters: "I am not, I must say, attracted to the idea of extra taxes on hard working people."

He added: "I will study the report. I think it is an independent report. I think there are doubtless some good ideas in it."

Read more: No10 tells shoppers to wear masks and bars to keep table service after 19 July

Money raised by the tax could have been 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.

However, there were concerns the 'snack tax' could add as much as £3.4billion a year to families' shopping bills.

The report also urged the government to run trials giving GPs the option to prescribe fruit and vegetables for patients suffering from poor diets.

It also calls on ministers to make sure the budget for payments for farmers to deliver environmental benefits, such as restoring nature, preventing floods and improving soils, is guaranteed to at least 2029.

And the payments need to be generous enough for land managers to make the switch from conventional farming to more sustainable options.

Food standards must be protected in any new trade deals to protect British farmers from unfair competition or even being bankrupted, and to prevent environmental damage from food production exported abroad, it urged.

It also calls for food education to be central to the national curriculum, to reverse declines in cooking skills and knowledge, with an "eat and learn" initiative to ensure children start learning about food earlier and that lessons are well-funded and inspected by Ofsted, as well as a return of the food A-Level.

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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.

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