Some of the UK’s biggest food retailers and manufacturers have given their support to the proposals laid out in a new food strategy to improve the nation’s health.
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Iceland Foods, Greggs, Co-Op and sandwich maker Greencore said they would be willing to sign up to new reporting rules setting out how they are encouraging healthier eating.
The recommendations in the National Food Strategy, drawn up by Henry Dimbleby, include new rules for “mandatory reporting” of the types of food being sold.
As part of the proposed changes, which are being weighed up by the Government, food giants have agreed to set out the amount of meat, fish and plant-based protein being sold, as well as explaining how they are reducing food waste.
They said that mandatory reporting would set a level playing field for the whole industry.
The food firms have also committed to reducing sales of food high in saturated fat and salt or sugar.
Mr Dimbleby’s report calls for a sugar and salt reformulation tax as a key part of efforts to transform the nation’s diet to include less sugar, salt and meat to protect health and the environment.
It warns that what we eat, and how it is produced, is doing “terrible damage”, with poor diets contributing to 64,000 deaths a year in England and costing the economy an annual £74 billion.
Mr Dimbleby said: “Our leading food businesses are today making clear that they understand how critical their role is in improving British people’s diets.
“Over time, mandatory reporting will show the positive steps that industry is taking to improve the diets of the nation.”
On the issue of transparency, the report calls for the Government to introduce a new law requiring food companies with more than 250 employees to provide an annual report on the amount of food they sell which is high in saturated fat, salt and sugar to UK consumers, excluding alcohol.
It also says the amount of vegetables, fruit, fibre and protein sold – including meat, fish, plant protein – should be published, alongside food waste.
Tesco’s UK and Ireland boss Jason Tarry said: “Tesco was the first retailer to publish its food waste data, and this year we have begun sharing the details of our protein sales, so we support the strategy’s call for mandatory reporting requirements, and with it the aim of delivering affordable, healthy, sustainable food for all.”
Sainsbury’s boss Simon Roberts added: “We have been proactively disclosing our healthy and better for you sales since November 2020 and we continue to increase our sales reporting across a wide range of metrics.
“We believe that everyone should have access to food that is better for them and the planet and that increased reporting is one of the first steps in helping businesses understand how they can have a direct impact in encouraging customers towards healthier and more sustainable diets.”
But despite support from the sector for the changes, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was not attracted to the idea of extra taxes on unhealthy food – leading to Mr Dimbleby pointing out the premise was to force manufacturers to reformulate recipes, as had happened following the introduction of a sugar tax on soft drinks.
Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Food, said: “Despite the evidence that eating a diet full of fruit and vegetables leads to a healthy life and weight, the nation faces an obesity epidemic. The food industry already faces tougher rules on marketing high fat, salt and sugar products.
“However, to reduce the amount of unhealthy food being consumed, there is a strong argument that we need a national strategy and intervention to create a level playing field and set a framework for retailers and manufactures to abide by.”
Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland Foods, said: “Transparent mandated business reporting will ensure customers are able to judge the true context of the commitments businesses make and the progress being reported.”
Greggs boss Roger Whiteside said: “We support the introduction of mandatory reporting across our sector which will create a level playing field for the largest food providers and help deliver a step change in the health of the nation’s diet.”