Henry Dimbleby's National Food Strategy has recommended that the government introduces a world-first sugar and salt reformation tax in a bid to improve the nation's health.
The report, published today, has suggested a £3/kg levy on sugar and a £6/kg tax on salt sold for use in processed food or in restaurants and catering businesses. Some of the proceeds from the tax would be used to increase the number of free school meals and help low-income families access fruit and vegetables.
It also called for an overhaul of food education, including the return of the food A-level, which was axed in 2016, and sensory food education in nursery and reception classes, which has been shown to increase children's willingness to try fruit and vegetables.
It said the Department for Education should conduct a qualification review to ensure that existing and new qualifications, such as T-levels in science and catering, provide an adequate focus on food and nutrition and a progression route for students after GCSEs – particularly in light of the post-Brexit skills shortage in hospitality.
Dimbleby, a co-founder of Leon, was commissioned to write the report by the government in 2019. It is the first major review of the UK food system for 75 years. It also suggested that all food companies with more than 250 employees, including those in hospitality and contract catering, publish an annual report on their sales of healthy and unhealthy foods. This could be broken down into food and drink high in fat, sugar, salt (HFSS), sales of protein by type, and fruit and vegetables.
The report, which can be read here, also recommended the government accelerate the roll-out of a new procurement scheme being trialled in south-west England in which local food suppliers can sell their produce via an online procurement page "to encourage caterers to try a broader range of suppliers".
Dimbleby said Covid-19 had been a "painful reality check", with the country's high obesity rate a major factor in the high death rate.
"We must now seize the moment to build a better food system for our children and grandchildren," he said.
The government now has six months to respond to the report.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the National Food Strategy represented "an opportunity to identify and tackle the challenges facing hospitality, as well as wider society and the world", welcoming the report's emphasis on food skills being taught in schools.
However, she added that initiatives to improve healthy eating should be "taken at a pace that recognises the dire state of the sector as it looks to recover from the Covid crisis", with "appropriate consultation, so that we can best achieve lasting improvements collaboratively and without damaging recovery".
Tom Kerridge, chef-owner of venues including the two-Michelin-starred Hand & Flowers, one-Michelin-starred Coach, and the Butcher's Tap, all in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, said: "The Dimbleby report has worked through an incredibly complex landscape and resulted in a set of comprehensive, eminently workable recommendations that are practical and will have a direct impact on our lives.
"I take great heart in several recommendations that particularly resonate and relish the opportunity to see a new generation of children given the opportunity to learn to cook. A fundamental skill no child should be without. I applaud the findings and recommendations of the report."
Bill Granger, the restaurateur behind Granger & Co, added: "We all hate the idea of anyone telling us what to eat, and it never ever works. But simple measures like a sugar and salt tax that reflects the true cost of these foods will help us as food producers to look at our recipes and adjust them with more sustainable and healthier alternatives."
Chef Jamie Oliver added: "This is no time for half-hearted measures. If both government and businesses are willing to take bold action and prioritise the public's health, then we have an incredible opportunity to create a much fairer and more sustainable food system for all families."