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 a current 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.


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.


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 corporate world order? A far-fetched idea? It presents economic issues, so within the power of governments.

The next blogpost is #5: The scale needed for our five-a-day.


The previous blogposts in this series are:

#3: The economic burden

#2: Close to the planet’s carrying capacity

#1: Why this blogpost series

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