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Tax Unsustainable Food, Report Suggests

Commercial and operational challenges within the food industry, along with weak government leadership and people’s dependence on cheap food, are barriers to a sustainable food system, according to a report by the Food Ethics Council.

The “Beyond Business As Usual” report, which includes information from in-depth interviews with senior business executives, policymakers, public servants and civil society organizations, suggests practical and transformative changes that food businesses, government and consumers can make to help create a sustainable food system. These include a tax on unsustainable food.

The report found UK food businesses know they need to change the way they operate, but most don’t know how to make those changes. For many businesses, there are insufficient incentives to adopt such practices, and often strong disincentives to do so, according to the report, which was part of a two-year project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and sponsored by The Co-Operative Group.

Pressure to adopt short-term approaches undercuts longer-term investment in sustainability, even when there is genuine recognition of the need for change. Meanwhile, the global food system faces increasing challenges to adapt to the effects of climate change, world hunger and an escalating obesity crisis, the report said.

The Food Ethics Council urges government to lead the way in public sector food procurements and introduce sustainability taxes on unsustainably sourced food, with the revenue going to prevent further damage.

The report also recommends that businesses give sustainable meals to their workforce, retailers provide a better set of choices in products – such as only stocking fair-trade teas and bananas – and employees lobby for sustainably sourced food and drinks and for responsible pensions.

A separate report released earlier this month forecast that the number of eco-labels in the food industry will continue to rise in 2013, which could have adverse consequences. Currently over 200 seals and logos represent some ecological, ethical, ingredient or sustainability attributes in the global food industry, according to research group Organic Monitor.

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