Food strategy rejected by Boris Johnson can still be brought in, the prime minister’s tsar insists

Boris Johnson’s food czar says he believes the government will still implement some of the measures outlined in his political plan – despite Boris Johnson’s rejection of one of its key pillars within hours of its publication.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, announced the national food strategy last month, warning people to cut their meat intake by up to a third and calling for salt and sugar taxes to change that way. on which the land eats. .

But on the day the report – which took two years to compile and had input from hundreds of experts – was released, the prime minister said he was “not attracted” to the idea of ​​taxing salt and sugar to tackle junk food and obesity.

Sir. Dimbleby said: “I do not see Boris’ reported dismissal of it as the kind of death blow it was portrayed as in some circles. I see it as the Prime Minister being thrown into something after a speech about reaching the level and saying, that he ‘would study the report with interest’ but ‘was not attracted to extra tax on hard-working people.’ Who can disagree with that?

“My guess is that the Prime Minister had not read the report, which is almost 200 pages long when he spoke. And really, the purpose of the sugar and salt tax is to force large food companies to reformulate their sugar and salt content so that it does not necessarily lead for more tax. ”

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Sir. Dimbleby said that the sugar tax on soft drinks in 2018 had led to a number of beverages being reformulated to reduce sugar levels by almost a third so that prices for consumers did not rise. It happened after a 2015 study revealed the extent of the sugar problem – and found that 22 per cent of adults in the UK consume sweets and / or chocolate every day, and 44 per cent eat it several times a week.

He said it is now widely acknowledged that the government’s action was crucial to making progress and breaking the hugely damaging junk food cycle. “The food companies are privately telling the government that it requires their intervention as there is no way food companies will do it unilaterally because the economy is not working,” he said. “When I talk to people in the Treasury, I feel reassured and I can say that the government recognizes this and also that the NHS will be overridden if they do not address this.”

Carbon labeling, he added, was another area where a government call for action would be crucial to getting companies to act together to create change. His views come as the world’s leading authority on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, produced a “code red” report this month, warning that without urgent new policy measures to move the global economy to a low-carbon basis, we stand facing “unprecedented and irreversible” changes that will wreak havoc. Carbon footprint labels serve as a quick read for consumers to assess the climate impact of a product and motivate manufacturers to reduce emissions.

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Last month, The Independent revealed that Unilever would start with carbon labeling for the first time – marking a key moment in the shift to labeling products with their cost to the planet – and how their move had split the industry. Early users like Quorn Foods supported their initiative, but the British Retail Consortium, the retailer representing UK retailers, said unilateralism was not useful because a single universal approach has not yet been agreed, and Nestlé, which has over 2,000 brands, argued that “no one should strike out with their own method” because “cooperation is essential”.

But Mr Dimbleby supported Unilever’s move. “My view of Unilever’s initiative is that it’s a good thing that companies are pushing forward on their own and introducing carbon labels,” he said. “They will no doubt discover problems along the way, as well as what works. To tell them that they have to wait for everyone else to agree on the way forward before proceeding is to stifle innovation, and we do not want to ruin innovation. But we also need the government to step in and play a role here, so that we can have uniformity as in the nutrition labeling. ”

He added: “I am convinced that the primary power of sustainability labeling on packaging is less about influencing the consumer and more about firing companies up and changing the behavior of food producers. Companies hate having ‘red lights’ on their packages , and they will compete to improve their brands and have the lowest footprint.

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Carbon footprints – measured as a carbon dioxide equivalent value – show environmental costs from farm to fork, but can also be displayed using a green-yellow-red traffic light system.

Sir. Dimbleby added that he was in favor of companies agreeing on a broader power measure. “CO2 footprint labeling is too narrow a sustainability measure. We need a broader, composite label that also incorporates a product’s impact on biodiversity loss, deforestation, water consumption and methane and nitrogen emissions.”

But Mr Dimbleby said the only way to break the stalemate and get companies to work together is government intervention. “One of the recommendations in our strategy was that the government has a crucial role to play in bringing the industry together to ensure consistency in sustainability measurements and labeling, just as we have with nutrition labels. The state needs to move quickly, but I am glad that many “People in government see this as important. I am convinced that the labeling of environmental footprints will happen.”

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