Part 6: Safety, assurance and integrity — ‘drug-foods’ that damage human and planetary health

Few consider the so-called ‘drug-foods’ in the context of food safety. I have done so here, because our over-consumption of them presents dangers to both human and planetary health.

Two Profs and myself define what we meant by ‘drug-foods’ in a BMJ Rapid Response (1):

These drug “foods” (notice how I’ve changed the inverted commas) comprise about 50% of the UK household food spend. Interestingly, as we also point out in the BMJ article, the UK VAT system uniquely provides a means to precisely identify drug-food products and the corporations that manufacture and promote them — products that have minute or zero nutrients.

A thought experiment: Could you name three or four large tobacco companies? Or even tobacco brands?

By comparison, think how easily you can name corporates and/or their brands of confectionery, crisps or other savoury snacks or fizzy [soda] drinks. (2)

The impact of over-consumption of these products is well-documented. (3)

What is less well-recognised is the harm the over-consumption of these products do to the planet’s increasingly scarce natural resources. For example:

  • Coca Cola’s water consumption in 2012 was enough to meet the annual needs of over two billion people, (4)  a figure greater than the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity. (5)


Are we in crisis when ~50% of the UK household food spend is on these products?

Are we in crisis when there are no curbs on the companies that make and promote these drug ‘foods’? 


They are, by the bye, the most profitable in the sector; see them listed in this short video:


In the podcast clip below, I argue that they should not be part of the food system, but treated as we do tobacco companies; see footnote (1) again.


(1) Professor Jim Parle, Professor John Middleton and myself compiled this BMJ Rapid Response It is time to act against drug-foods, for the health of the population and the planet. We define what the drug-foods are, the means to identify the corporations that make and promote them, and make recommendations as to how their activities can be curbed.
note: We’ve just had a peer-reviewed paper on this subject accepted by the Journal of Public Health, publication likely in their next quarterly issue, March 2022.

(2) The reason why you can’t do the same with tobacco companies is because they’re not allowed to advertise or promote themselves or their products.

(3) For a useful summary, see the notes below this blogpost: What does this food sector balance sheet tell us?

(4) see footnote 1 on p18 of Chapter 1: Tap Wateer in Bartow J Elmore’s book Citizen Coke: The making of Coca Cola Capitalism (2015)

(5)  UN Factsheet on Water Scarcity (2018). See also this often updated webpage:


RH chat question:
Do you think there is an equally serious crisis in addiction to junk food, particularly in children even when better cheaper fresh food is available?

We never use the phrase ‘junk food’ because it can’t be defined. I have no idea what you mean by it, other than you saying something pejorative, and don’t know what you mean by ‘addictive’, a term that needs to be used carefully.

Look at the quotation at the top of this post from our BMJ Rapid Response; see also footnote (1) above.

note: I haven’t mentioned the use of synthetic, manufactured fats in some food products. They’re not drug-foods, nor do their products necessarily carry standard-rate VAT, thus aren’t mentioned in the BMJ article. We would welcome the prohibition of their use in the UK, as they do appear to contribute to diet-related morbidities; see the definition of NOVA Group 4 products at the bottom of the LHS column this info-graphic.


This is the sixth blogpost in the Lunar Society series, others all listed in this link: Food security: Is the UK already in crisis?

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