Research wanted by Nourish Scotland

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Request made by: Director, Nourish Scotland
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    Pete Ritchie

    Mind the gap: research wanted on feasibility of taxing the ‘health difference’ between what we’re sold and what we should be buying

    Multiple retailers and caterers create our collective food environment, providing us with the bulk of our shopping and most of our meals outside the home. This power comes with responsibility to help all of us meet the nutritional standards we’ve set for our nation: equally it is impossible for us to meet these standards in our diet unless they match what is sold in the shops and restaurants we use. The retailers and caterers’ levy would require operators of multiple (say over 10 or 100 outlets) to report periodically on the nutritional composition of their sales. They would then pay a levy on the difference between their sales and the targets – so for example if the added sugar across the board of Supermarket A is 14% (current average) it would pay the levy on the difference between this and the target (5%). Similar levies could be paid on the excess of saturated fat or the shortfall in fibre.

    Such a levy would be easy to assess and raise as the nutritional composition of all standard products is known. It shifts responsibility on to those who feed us to feed us better, and aligns our interests in sourcing a healthier diet for ourselves and our families with the interests of food businesses.
    It may be true that there is no such thing as an unhealthy food: but there is an unhealthy shopping basket. This levy changes the basket.

    We are looking for a researcher who could extend this from a notion to a concept note, in particular:

    How easy is it to collate reliably the total nutritional content of the retailers’ basket and the caterers’ menu?
    Where should the cut-off point be for scale? 100 outlets? £100m turnover?
    How might a levy be pitched? In relation to the social externalities of an unhealthy diet?
    Could it be collected by local rather than central government and used directly by health and social care partnerships?
    What would be the perverse incentives and consequences?
    Are there any examples of similar schemes (food-related or not) in other jurisdictions?

    This Research Wanted enquiry comes from Nourish Scotland. For further discussion, please contact Pete Ritchie: pete[@]

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