Food System Transformation #4: A new corporate order?

Here’s a thought experiment: What would a list of the world’s largest food and beverage companies look like if there were a ‘food system transformation’?

Here’s the top 20 listed by the Food Engineering website.

Notice how many of these powerful corporations manufacture and food products that carry standard-rate VAT in the UK; i.e. products with zero or close to zero nutritional value. These are drug-food products.

As usual, the Forbes 2018 List of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies includes tobacco companies:

If, as the quotation from the CMO’s 2018 Annual Report indicates, those who shape the environment for health [be] held to account, what would these lists look like?

note: We’re delighted that Dame Sally Davies’ Independent Report of October 2019, Time to Solve Childhood Obesity, flagged up VAT on food and beverage products.

Whereas she saw the VAT system as a means to include more food products within its ambit, we judge that would ineffective. Our assessment is that a different, two-pronged approach is what’s needed:

  • First, food and beverage products should be clearly marked as carrying VAT, and the reason why.
  • Secondly, the UK fiscal and regulatory system should act against the corporations who manufacture and promotion food stuffs that carry standard-rate VAT.

We are acutely aware, however of the challenges involved; see the next section.

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As we said at the conclusion of our blogpost for the National Food Strategy, such a policy presents:

Big questions without many answers
Placing curbs on drug-food companies begs big questions without many answers to date: How would we support SMEs that make a substantial part of their living from drug-food sales to make a transition to a different business model? Or hospitals, leisure centres et al whose income stream is significantly enhanced by the sale of drug-foods? How could planning decisions figure in their economic needs? 

Indeed, what mechanisms can national and local government put in place to generate commercially viable profits for healthy agri-food-enterprises?

In summary, countering the power and vested interests of corporations manufacturing and promoting drug-foods is a huge social, political and economic challenge, a challenge that has to be tackled, and tackled far more quickly than the actions against tobacco companies that we now take for granted.

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The question at the beginning of this blogpost asked: What would a list of the world’s largest food and beverage companies look like if there were a ‘food system transformation’?

Could there be a new world order? A far-fetched idea.

In the next blogpost, we explain why with regard to nutritious food to a population. The sheer scale of it and that profit margins range from less-than 0% to a slim 1-2%

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