Our early economic analysis of food and drink data revealed that VAT was a precise mechanism to identify products and producers harming population health and, through their use of increasingly scarce natural resources of land, soils, water and energy, harming planetary health too.
We quickly realised that there were a few large global corporations manufacturing and promoting these products at scale. They dominate the sector economically, and exercise huge vested interest power across all sectors and levels of society in maintaining the status quo.
It’s worth noting that these VAT-rated products are all drug-foods; i.e. sugar and sugar substitutes, cocoa, caffeine and alcohol. Our definition includes products, such as savoury snacks, specifically formulated to be ‘more-ish’; see the video below, also linked here Be drug food aware.
In consultation with people from across the food sector, from businesses to agri-food academics, we designed this programme, Action Research: Birmingham as a laboratory. It proved, however, impossible to get funding for it, owing to the above-mentioned vested interests. Other than for drug-foods, the margins along the food supply system for safe, nutritious food are wafer thin or non-existent.
A senior retail executive summed up why: You need to understand there isn’t a retailer who will help you; confectionery subsidises carrots.
We have, therefore, refocussed on efforts. At the top of our agenda is to shift public debate from individual behaviour change to changing the choice environment. As the Chief Medical Officer says in her 2018 Annual Report, Those who shape the environment for health should be held to account . . . Those sectors that damage health must pay for their harm or subsidise healthier choices.
So what does that mean for the food sector? A major contributor to meeting the CMO’s agenda is a rapid reduction in drug-food supply, to reduce both t the economic and social burden on local communities and global drug food corporates of use of our already stretched natural resources. Indications of how this can be achieved, and the impact of actions are outlined in the infographic below: