This is not the first time I have talked about this subject and I doubt it will be the last!
I’ve written two previous blogs on the subject; written (unpublished) letters in response to articles in both the @Telegraph and the @Independent; I have raised the issue in debate at @FoodMattersLive; to my local MP, Tim Farron and to Keith Vaz, the MP chairing the All Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes We should be changing taxes; not just adding new ones. By reviewing VAT on foodstuffs we not only have the chance to make healthier options cheaper; but change thew mindset regarding ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ foodstuffs.
As a manufacturer of healthier snacking options I understand more than most the issues surrounding ‘Western diets’. It is frustrating that despite all the evidence of this time-bomb, that our government has done little to address the problem. In fact I would go further in saying that they are complicit in perpetuating the problem. The government should not only be making the healthier option easiest but also making it the cheapest. I have read with much interest the Annual Report from Professor Dame Sally Davies, our Chief Medical Officer. It suggests a positive indication of a willingness to change on the part of the government; and given her remit, there is time to get the balance right. Click here for a brief summary of her recommendations from the Institute of Food Science and Technology Click here for a brief summary of her recommendations from the Institute of Food Science and Technology.
However, the answer does not lie in implementing further sugar-taxes, but bringing out existing tax system into the 21st Century. I have spent many an hour drilling down into the VAT regulations on food and read with dismay the many court-cases. The reality is that we have a VAT system for food that dates back to the post war era. Standard rated food is taxed at 20% and the Standard and Zero ratings are applied on the basis of whether a food is considered ‘essential’. This means that a doughnut – fried and sugar coated confection that delights children across the country – is zero rated. It is a ‘cake’ and cakes are ‘essential’. In contrast, healthier options, such as snacks that are made from a combination of pressed dried fruit and seeds or nuts are classed as ‘confectionary’ and therefore standard rated. This makes them automatically 20% more expensive for the consumer.
I applaud the desire to make fresh fruit and vegetables cheaper than unhealthy processed options. However, we do not need new taxes to be imposed in order for this to happen. If the Government are serious about tackling diet-related disease they should start by redressing the inequality inherent in the VAT system and at the same time focus on supporting and educating the consumer to make healthier choices. As an ex-teacher of more than two decades, I would love for Cooking (I don’t mean Home Economics or Domestic Science) to be taught in all schools – but that requires significant investment and another review of what is important in the curriculum. It is not something I would want to impose on my beleaguered ex-colleagues – that’s for another day!