One of the key recommendations from the National Food Strategy is new taxes on sugar and salt in food. GILES BROWN asked if such a tax would make us more healthy?

Colin Cox, director public health at Cumbria County Council

Too much salt and sugar in the diet undoubtedly contribute to poor health. The problem is that the sugar and salt that people get in their diets mostly doesn’t come from food they make themselves – mostly it comes from processed foods, usually from major food manufacturers. So just encouraging people to eat less of it really doesn’t work – even if people want to do so it’s often not simple to make a healthier choice. That means we have to make the easy choice healthier – and that’s what a so-called sugar tax or salt tax could do. The soft drinks sugar tax saw companies reformulate their products, substantially reducing the amount of sugar while not affecting their sales. This is about making the companies that feed us take responsibility for the effect their products have on our health without forcing people to choose between healthy and unhealthy (but strongly marketed) foods – it’s a win for the consumer and that’s why I support this sort of approach.

Maria Whitehead, co-owner of Hawkshead Relish

My view is that we should all reduce our refined sugar and salt intake. It’s intrinsically important to live a healthy lifestyle and eat a balanced diet. Which is why we as a company constantly amend and adjust our recipes where we can to reduce the quantities of sugar and salt used.

We use the best quality ingredients, combining them with herbs and spices that we roast and grind as we need to pack a real flavour punch and to enable the natural sugars to come through without having to add flavour enhancers. The end product is rich in depth and flavour, so you need less of it to get that taste sensation.

The aim is not to rule out sugar or salt altogether but to use them in your diet in a controlled way, and this is ultimately how we should all be thinking.

Rachel Marsdin, tax partner at MHA Moore and Smalley

It seems unlikely that price rises caused by a salt and sugar tax would be passed onto consumers in full because of how competitive grocery retail is.

The report’s authors are probably banking on the tax changing the behaviour of food producers, which happened in part following the introduction of the soft drinks levy in 2018.

The trouble here is the recommendations look very draconian. For example, the price a large food processor is charged per kilo of sugar is 50 pence. The report proposes a £3 tax per kilo: a 600 per cent price increase. If this cost cannot be passed on, it will force some producers out of business.

Another point to consider is that imported manufactured products may not be subject to the sugar and salt taxes which means these products will still be cheap and available to the consumer.

We must tackle obesity, but a sugar and salt tax probably can’t change consumer behaviour on its own. However, it could force food processors under if not handled with great care.