Boris Johnson has said now is not the time to ‘start imposing new taxes’ on unhealthy foods to tackle obesity – and claimed the solution is to ‘eat less’.
Mr Johnson was championing a new food strategy which ignores some of the recommendations made in a major review by Henry Dimbleby – including a tax on salt and sugar.
The proposals, which were published in full on Monday, will focus on boosting food safety – with goals including boosting UK production and addressing labor shortages in the sector.
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Mr Dimbleby, co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, said it represented some progress but insisted that “it’s not a strategy as suchand criticized what he sees as the fragmented nature of policy-making in government on the issue.
Labor said the government’s plan was ‘nothing more than a vague statement of intent’, while farm group Sustain said that in the face of multiple crises including the cost of living, change climate and obesity, he seemed “shameful”.
But the Prime Minister told reporters the government was ‘supporting big British farming, putting money into modernization, into innovation’.
He denied the government was failing to tackle obesity, saying he had worked with the food and drink industry to reduce salt and sugar levels in food.
The Prime Minister added: “What we don’t want to do now is start imposing new taxes on them which will only increase the cost of food.”
He cited the current economic climate in which “everyone can see the effects of soaring global energy prices.”
“Of course we have to advocate for healthy eating, helping people lose weight, there are all sorts of ways to do that,” the Prime Minister added.
“The best way to lose weight, believe me, is to eat less.”
Agriculture Minister Victoria Prentis asked why the government had ignored suggestions to introduce a tax on sugar and salt, telling LBC that such a levy would be a “pretty brutal” instrument, adding that “voluntary initiatives” could work instead.
But Mr Dimbleby offered a stark view of the problems caused by what the nation eats, telling Sky News: “We have a food system that is making us sick.
“The poorest neighborhoods die on average seven years earlier – the people who live there – than the richest.
“Much of it is due to food.
“It destroys the environment. It’s not sustainable.”
He also argued that the amount spent on free school meals for children – frozen for years at £2.30 a day – effectively means less money available to pay for nutritious food for poorer children.
“Ultimately our food system will change because by definition it cannot survive as it is,” Mr Dimbleby said.
“But to have the kind of boldness of action and the courage and the connection and the collaboration, it needs to be coordinated more clearly across government.”
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