Spiked: How the EU’s green policies will push up food prices

This article was published by Spiked.

At COP26 last November, world leaders promised to put an end to deforestation by 2030. Around the same time, the EU unveiled a new draft law which would ban food imports ‘linked to deforestation’, much to the horror of the agriculture industry. The proposals are currently being considered by European ministers.

The EU’s approach focuses on palm oil, the production of which is responsible for a huge amount of deforestation. But here’s the problem. Palm oil is currently indispensable. It is used to make countless everyday essentials, ranging from detergent to all kinds of food products.

As we all become more conscious of the damaging impact we have on the natural environment, public pressure has increased on palm-oil producers. Recent surveys show that Brits see it as much more harmful to the environment than other vegetable-oil alternatives, such as soybean, sunflower, rapeseed and olive.

This negative view of palm oil is already having an effect on the market. In the private sector, many outlets are going out of their way to avoid it, loudly signalling to their customers which of their products are palm oil-free. For instance, grocery delivery service Ocado boasts about and promotes its growing range of products which don’t use palm oil.

Since palm oil contributes to deforestation, and is now viewed negatively by the public, this regulatory attack by the EU was perhaps inevitable. It seems likely that more nations will now follow the EU’s lead in introducing new bans, tariffs and other disincentives to curb palm-oil production and use.

But these myopic bans will not solve anything. In fact, they will likely exacerbate the problem of deforestation. After all, compared to the alternatives, palm oil is in fact a remarkably space-efficient product. It occupies just six per cent of the land used for vegetable-oil production around the world, and yet it meets 40 per cent of the world’s vegetable-oil demand.

That makes it a much more environmentally friendly product than the alternative vegetable oils. There’s science to back this up, too. One recent research paper showed that restrictions on palm oil, of the kind favoured by the EU, have little to no effect on deforestation or emissions.

At COP26 last November, world leaders promised to put an end to deforestation by 2030. Around the same time, the EU unveiled a new draft law which would ban food imports ‘linked to deforestation’, much to the horror of the agriculture industry. The proposals are currently being considered by European ministers.

The EU’s approach focuses on palm oil, the production of which is responsible for a huge amount of deforestation. But here’s the problem. Palm oil is currently indispensable. It is used to make countless everyday essentials, ranging from detergent to all kinds of food products.

As we all become more conscious of the damaging impact we have on the natural environment, public pressure has increased on palm-oil producers. Recent surveys show that Brits see it as much more harmful to the environment than other vegetable-oil alternatives, such as soybean, sunflower, rapeseed and olive.

This negative view of palm oil is already having an effect on the market. In the private sector, many outlets are going out of their way to avoid it, loudly signalling to their customers which of their products are palm oil-free. For instance, grocery delivery service Ocado boasts about and promotes its growing range of products which don’t use palm oil.

Since palm oil contributes to deforestation, and is now viewed negatively by the public, this regulatory attack by the EU was perhaps inevitable. It seems likely that more nations will now follow the EU’s lead in introducing new bans, tariffs and other disincentives to curb palm-oil production and use.

But these myopic bans will not solve anything. In fact, they will likely exacerbate the problem of deforestation. After all, compared to the alternatives, palm oil is in fact a remarkably space-efficient product. It occupies just six per cent of the land used for vegetable-oil production around the world, and yet it meets 40 per cent of the world’s vegetable-oil demand.

That makes it a much more environmentally friendly product than the alternative vegetable oils. There’s science to back this up, too. One recent research paper showed that restrictions on palm oil, of the kind favoured by the EU, have little to no effect on deforestation or emissions.

Instead, all this new legislation will do is make food more expensive, which will deepen the cost-of-living crisis. Prices are already soaring thanks to inflation and the growing energy crisis, and given how much food Ukraine and Russia export, prices will only continue to grow. The last thing we need is for our shopping bills to be pushed higher still by short-sighted eco-laws forcing food producers to avoid palm oil and switch to other products – which are both more expensive and worse for the environment.

In order to solve the issue of deforestation without exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis, we must lean into innovation in palm oil. For example, there are alternative varieties of palm oil which are designed to minimise the impact of its production on the environment. At the moment, however, these are far more expensive than cheaper, more environmentally damaging palm-oil products.

We will not make any meaningful progress in the fight against deforestation until both regulators and private industries are able to put aside their environmental virtue-signalling. We should be investing in more sustainable palm oil, not banning palm oil altogether.

A ban on palm oil would do nothing to stop deforestation, but it would deepen the cost-of-living crisis.

Daily Express: Boris used to be libertarian – so why now this nanny state?

This article was published in the Daily Express.

FOOD prices are going up and they will only continue to do so. It has been clear since at least October that a combination of factors including supply chain issues and post-pandemic labour shortages would interrupt the smooth manufacture and distribution of food and increase costs for consumers.

As a result, our weekly shopping bills are about to become a lot more expensive. Very soon, families up and down the country will suddenly find that they have run out of money before the end of the month. In fact, more and more harrowing stories are already emerging of many having to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves. Against that backdrop, it is baffling that this government is persisting with its wrongheaded anti-obesity drive, at great and direct cost to struggling families. Once upon a time, Boris Johnson used to call himself ‘libertarian’ and speak of Britain as a ‘land of liberty’.

In fact, during his campaign for the Tory leadership in 2019, he pledged to roll back ‘the continuing creep of the nanny state’. Now, though, he is determined to slim Britain down by directly attacking unhealthy foods.

His Health and Care Bill contains a number of provisions aimed at reducing purchases of foods the government decides are ‘unhealthy’. It will ban advertising those foods on television and radio before 9pm in a new watershed, and at any time online. That policy will come at immense cost to the broadcasting, advertising and food industries, but according to the government’s own analysis, it will only remove 1.7 calories from kids’ diets per day – roughly the equivalent of a single Tic Tac or half a Smartie.

The bill will also outlaw promotional offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ on offending foods. Hoping to keep to your tight shopping budget by using a ‘3 for 2’ on crisps for the kids’ school lunch boxes? Think again. The government has decided that you’re either incapable or unwilling to make healthy choices for yourself and your family, so they are going to forcibly make those decisions for you through aggressive new nanny-state regulation.

Where the government should be easing strain on our wallets, it is instead actively worsening the cost-of-living crisis by implementing new rules which will add extra artificial costs onto our shopping bills. Research from the Food and Drink Federation predicts that the measures in the Health and Care Bill will top up our food expenses to the tune of £160 per year.

That might not sound like a bank-breaking figure, but when struggling families are already penny-pinching and still failing to make ends meet, an extra £15 or so disappearing every month will seem like a lost fortune. Food prices are going up anyway, as are our energy bills, fuel costs and National Insurance contributions. The last thing the government should be doing is unnecessarily making the everyday essentials even more expensive.

Food prices are the eye of the storm of the cost-of-living crisis. Everything is interlinked. For instance, rising gas prices directly affect manufacture and distribution costs, and those increased costs filter through to the supermarket shelves. It is a vicious cycle.

On an industrial scale, food prices have been quietly climbing for some time, mostly due to non-economic factors such as poor wheat harvests. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation puts the year-on-year increase in global food commodity prices at 30%. To date, those price increases have been largely absorbed by manufacturers, who had a vested interest in keeping prices down.

But now, given the perfect storm of political and economic problems closing in on consumers, prices in shops will inevitably rise a great deal. That means it’s crunch time – time to pull out all the stops to make sure no British family has to go without food or heating.

It is not the time for virtue-signalling on obesity through damaging and ineffective new rules and regulations. Resisting the further growth of the nanny state is the only way to keep household costs down and safeguard our most fundamental freedoms of choice in the name of personal responsibility.

Reaction: Red Wall voters won’t forgive Tory MPs for worsening the cost-of-living crisis

This article was published on Reaction.

You might not realise it, but food prices have been rising for some time. Issues such as poor wheat harvests and increasing costs for farm machinery have quietly pushed prices up behind the scenes. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates a year-on-year rise of 30%. Most of those costs were absorbed by the manufacturing and distributions industries, so did not filter through to consumers – until now.

A perfect storm of problems – supply chain disruptions, energy prices, inflation and so on – is boiling over. Combined with existing food commodity cost increases, it is beginning to have a substantial impact on prices on supermarket shelves. Food prices are about to boom, and they will be a key component of the crushing cost-of-living crisis to come this year.

And yet, incredibly, the government remains wrapped up in its anti-obesity nanny-state fantasy. It is choosing now, of all times, to dive-bomb into an enormous expansion of the state, ushering in reams of fresh red tape to make life more difficult for businesses and add extra unnecessary costs to struggling households’ monthly outgoings.

The Health and Care Bill contains a number of misguided provisions aimed at tackling obesity through new regulation. They include the long-awaited ‘junk food ad ban’, an extraordinary policy which will cost the broadcast industry alone £200 million and reduce children’s calorie consumption by a grand total of 1.7 calories per day. That’s roughly the equivalent of a single Tic Tac, or half a Smartie.

Where the ad ban is costly for industry, other new measures in the Health and Care Bill will cost consumers money directly. For instance, promotional deals such as ‘buy one get one free’ will be banned for foods the government decides are unhealthy. Many families rely on special offers like that to make ends meet and will suffer as a result of this move.

The Food and Drink Federation estimates the new rules will top up annual food shopping bills by £160 on average. The lowest earners are set to face an 11 per cent increase in their food expenses. We are already hearing harrowing stories of families having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children and the situation will worsen over the next few months. Ill-advised, costly government intervention of this kind will only accelerate it.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the government clings to its backwards mentality that the nanny state can eliminate obesity. No one voted for the nanny state in 2019 – certainly not Red Wall voters – but we’re getting it anyway. To insist that restricting access to unhealthy foods will make Britain slimmer is infantilising and insulting. How must you see obese people if you think banning ‘3 for 2’ on crisps and chocolate will cause them to lose weight?

More concerning even than the government looking down on and talking down to ordinary people about their dietary choices is the economic consequences of this policy direction. Food insecurity could become a burning issue in various Red Wall areas in the coming months. A survey found that one in four consumers worry they will now be unable to pay for their weekly shopping with so many special offers axed. The additional costs from these regulations will disproportionately affect the poorest families in the poorest areas, many of which fall within the Red Wall.

In that context, it’s barmy that the government appears more concerned that the food we buy is healthy than accessible. It has no problem denying struggling families the ability to fill their shopping family, leaving them to go hungry for whole days at a time, just as long as their trolley doesn’t contain an unacceptable number of high-fat or high-sugar products. The thinking is completely back-to-front.

Tory MPs across Wales, the midlands and the north should think very carefully indeed about signing off absent-mindedly on an unprecedented expansion of the nanny state which will bring cost their poorest constituents money in a direct, observable way. Voters will undoubtedly notice the way their shopping habits are forced to change around the new regulations, and they will see the effects on their wallets. Many leant the Conservative Party their vote for the first time in a generation in 2019 – when they see what their new Tory MPs are doing for them, they might never vote blue again.

Conservatives Global: Red Wall voters will junk Boris before junk food

This article was published on Conservatives Global.

The working class is over-represented in Red Wall areas. People in the Midlands and the North of England are much more likely to suffer through poverty and food insecurity. As we hurtle towards a cost-of-living crisis, the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs should pay particular attention to their constituents’ food shopping bills. With the Government so insistent on a nanny-state approach to tackling obesity, they might find themselves blamed for worsening the cost-of-living crisis, leaving families unable to make ends meet.

The situation was already dire, even before the crisis took hold. Food insecurity is an under-discussed and horrifyingly widespread issue in this country. According to research by the Food Foundation, 4.7 million people – 9 per cent of the UK’s adult population – live in households which experienced food insecurity in the year leading up to March 2021. In that period, the Trussell Trust’s network of food banks distributed 2.5 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis – a third higher than the previous year.

In Red Wall areas, anecdotal evidence suggests that already this year, many households are in serious trouble, unable to feed themselves and their children. Batley Food Bank, which has seen the number of food parcels it delivers double since last summer, says it is often unable to help everyone because there are so many people in need of support to access food. “We can only accommodate so many people. Sometimes it’s just not logistically possible to do the amount of referrals we get in a day.”

For the poorest households, the situation is only going to get more painful as 2022 goes on. The increase in energy bills set to arrive in April of this year will fall disproportionately on low-income families, who spend far more of their income on utilities. According to the Resolution Foundation, the share of income the poorest households spend on energy bills is set to rise from 8.5 per cent to 12 per cent – three times higher than the income share spent by the richest households.

It’s not just monthly bills which are going up – food prices are set to skyrocket. Supply costs were going up anyway for a range of reasons, not least supply chain problems. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation puts the year-on-year increase in food commodity prices at 30 per cent. So far, much of the cost increase has been absorbed by manufacturers and distributors, keeping prices relatively stable. But with inflation and the energy crisis taking hold, prices in shops are already climbing.

In that context, the Government’s insistence on inflating the nanny state at direct cost to consumers seems barmy. The Health and Care Bill is set to bring in a whole host of new anti-obesity measures, starting with banning promotional offers (e.g. ‘buy one get one free’) on unhealthy foods. The Food & Drink Federation says that will add £160 to household annual shopping bills (on top of higher energy bills and already inflated food prices) and disproportionately affect poorer households.

The Bill also includes the long-awaited ‘junk food ad ban’. Advertising for foods the government deems unhealthy will be banned before 9pm on TV and radio in a new ‘watershed’, and at all times online. The Advertising Association says that policy will come at an eye-watering cost of £200 million to British broadcasters. Worst of all, it won’t work – according to the Government’s research into its own policy, it will reduce children’s calorie consumption by 1.7 per day. That’s the equivalent of a single Tic Tac, or half a Smartie.

Growing the nanny state and talking down to the public about their dietary choices is likely to be wildly unpopular in the Red Wall, especially when it exacerbates an already painful cost-of-living crisis. Come the next general election – and in the more immediate future, the May local elections – Tories across the Red Wall who acquiesce to the Government on this could be punished by disgruntled voters for putting unnecessary strain on household finances.

Now that Downing Street is weak and backbenchers have leverage, the Red Wallers should stand against the never-ending growth of the nanny state and stick up for common sense and personal responsibility by pushing for the Government to bin the short-sighted new food regulations in the Health & Care Bill, which won’t make us any slimmer but will make our wallets feel lighter.

1828: A lack of evidence-based policy on obesity will cost us dearly

This article was published on 1828.

In South Shields, a local authority recently denied permission for an entertainment complex to set up three ‘independent takeaway units’ to sell food. The plan would have provided full-time employment for nine people, but South Tyneside Council rejected it on the grounds that it could clash with the council’s drive to reduce obesity. This is despite the council also admitting it had no detail on what food would be served.

This extraordinary case of nanny-state Nimbyism is just the latest example of how the current obsession with slimming Britain down by restricting access to unhealthy food is doing us all a great disservice.

On a national level, the government’s Health and Care Bill is set to introduce a slew of new advertising and sales restrictions around HFSS foods (those high in fat, sugar or salt) in an effort to stop rising obesity in its tracks. But there are concerns that the negative consequences of such an approach could far outweigh the positives, especially as we head full-throttle into a bracing cost-of-living crisis.

The new rules in the Health & Care Bill include the long-touted ‘junk food ad ban’. Advertising for foods the government has decided are unhealthy (which include the likes of mustard, yoghurt and tinned fruit) will be banned before 9pm on TV and radio as part of a new ‘watershed’, and at all times online.

Even if there were evidence that online advertising of unhealthy foods is a crisis that needs to be tackled urgently, the ad ban would still be a terrible idea. But it is not even a real problem, let alone a crisis needing a state-imposed solution.

The ad ban policy sparked alarm in the food industry when it was first announced back in 2020, and other industries such as broadcasting and advertising are also set to take a substantial hit from it. But will it be worth it? Will it help save our children from the glut of junk food addiction? Seemingly not. According to the government’s own research into the policy, it will remove a grand total of 1.7 calories from kids’ diets per day. For context, that is approximately the equivalent of a single Tic Tac, or half a Smartie.

More directly damaging to consumers is the provision banning promotional offers such as ‘buy one get one free’ on foods proscribed by the government as ‘unhealthy’. Many families rely on these offers to make ends meet. Outlawing them for various everyday essentials will, according to a report from the Food and Drink Federation, increase annual food shopping bills by £160.

It is especially misjudged for the government to be unnecessarily adding to the unavoidable expenses of struggling households when we are hurtling towards a cost-of-living crisis which is set to be catastrophic for many. Some people are already having to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves and their children. The new rules will disproportionately hit those on lower incomes, who will already be hardest hit by rocketing energy bills, fuel costs and so on and do not necessarily have the luxury of splashing out on healthier, organic alternatives to their usual snack foods.

With the government artificially increasing food prices in this way, there is no limit on how high they could eventually go. Tesco chairman John Allan predicted in an interview recently that prices on supermarket shelves could climb by 5 per cent by the spring as energy and other costs feed through to the High Street. The Bloomberg Agriculture Spot Subindex, which tracks the prices of agricultural commodities, is nearing an all-time high. Prices of various crops are set to rise higher than ever, sending food prices through the roof.

In fact, food commodity prices have been creeping up for some time, but it may have escaped our notice because most of those costs have not yet filtered through to consumers. In light of a cacophony of issues, ranging from supply chain problems to the growing cost of energy, substantial food prices are now inevitable.

An extra £160 each year, then, is an unwelcome addition when considered alongside all the other extra expenses we will be facing for the first time this year – food and otherwise – as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.

When the Health and Care Bill made it to the floor of the House of Lords this month, it was greeted by a chorus of common sense. Tory peers called attention to the issues with the anti-obesity provisions in the bill and, upon sending it back to the Commons, urged the government to reconsider.

As Lord Black put it: “Even now at the 11th hour they should think again because it is disproportionate based on scant, frankly implausible, evidence, it’ll damage the creative economy, which is already under such stress, and it’ll have unintended consequences like so much legislation that impacts on the media.”

Lord Vaizey pointed out that similar advertising rules have comprehensively failed elsewhere. “At the risk of being trolled both in French and Canadian on Twitter,” he said, “I gather that in Quebec – which has had a [junk food ad] ban now for 40 years – the Quebecois have got fatter faster than the rest of Canada.”

Conservative whip Baroness Penn conceded in that debate that there is a need for changes to be made to the bill to allow for “flexibility” on its implementation date, should “emerging challenges” render the planned launch date of 1 January 2023 “unworkable”.

As Baroness Penn seemed to allude to, these policies should be delayed at the very least until a time when there is not such an impending squeeze on household budgets. If there is any right time for the nanny state to intervene in our dietary choices, now is surely not it. More generally, the nanny-state approach must be rethought from the ground up. The data shows these kinds of rules have a negligible impact on calorie intake. Ham-fisted state intervention has never worked in this area, and it never will.

Yorkshire Post: Nanny state obesity policies are making cost of living crisis worse for Yorkshire’s families

This article was published in the Yorkshire Post.

THE cost-of-living crisis is hitting Yorkshire hard as the UK inflation rate rises to 5.5 per cent – a 30-year high.

It is one of the areas where people will suffer most as bills and inflation climb. According to ONS data, Yorkshire and the Humber holds just 6.9 per cent of the total gross disposable household income in the UK, despite accommodating 8.2 per cent of the population. Poverty is over-represented in Yorkshire.

Nanny state sugar taxes won’t defeat obesity – Jason Reed

This year, making ends meet will become tougher than ever for families. Eighty per cent of people in Yorkshire have already seen their energy bills increase and 96 per cent say they are worried about their finances in the months to come.

The cost-of-living crisis will disproportionately affect those who struggle to pay their bills anyway. Struggling households are badly in need of government support – the last thing they need is new unavoidable expenditure to worry about.

But the Government has its priorities all wrong. Incredibly, despite this ongoing crisis, it is more concerned with food being healthy than affordable.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who visited Doncaster Royal Infirmary on Tuesday, has reaffirmed his commitment to the Health and Care Bill, which contains a raft of new interventionist policies such as cracking down on promotional offers like ‘buy one get one free’ on unhealthy foods in shops.

The nanny state won’t help Brits slim down, but it will make the cost-of-living crisis worse. Researchers at the Food and Drink Federation predict the new regulations could add an extra £160 to families’ annual shopping bills (on top of inflation, higher energy bills and various other costs.) Once again, the poorest households will suffer most of all because they more often rely on promotions like ‘three for two’ when they shop to make ends meet.

The Government ought not to concern itself with our dietary choices at all, especially when it is led by a man who stood for the leadership of his party on a proud platform of rolling back “the continuing creep of the nanny state”.

But if the state must take action on obesity, it could do so in a way that does not involve bringing in new taxes and regulations which will make our lives more difficult and expensive, especially as we stand on the brink of a cost-of-living crisis.

As attention on obesity rates has gradually risen, so the free market has provided. There has been a flood of exciting and pioneering innovations in this area. For instance, the NHS recently approved the use of semaglutide, a weight loss drug which saw patients’ weight fall by 12 per cent after a year of weekly injections.

“I have spent the last 20 years doing obesity research,” said UCL professor Rachel Batterham, one of the scientists involved in the study which confirmed the benefits of semaglutide. “Up until now, we’ve not had an effective treatment for obesity apart from bariatric surgery.”

As well as medical steps forward, there are a whole host of nudge-style policies we could try before resorting to the last-ditch tax-and-ban course of action. For instance, a change as simple as supermarkets voluntarily removing sweets from the tills to stop last-minute impulse buys has been shown to reduce chocolate and crisp sales by a fifth.

Other more creative initiatives can make a big difference too. In a study in the US, researchers were able to increase sales of fruits and vegetables in a selection of stores by 100 per cent by simply adding a line of yellow tape down the middle of the shopping trolleys along with labels instructing customers to place fruit and veg in one section of the trolley and everything else in the other.

An Icelandic supermarket once launched a joint campaign with LazyTown, a children’s TV programme which stars a fitness-obsessed superhero and refers to fruit and veg as ‘sports candy’. Merely by marketing directly to children and rebranding its own healthy products as ‘sports candy’, the supermarket was able to increase sales of those items by 22 per cent. In the years since, Iceland is one of the only countries in the world which has seen a sustained drop in childhood obesity rates.

There are a thousand better ways to go about addressing obesity than blanket bans on advertising and special offers, especially when those policies will worsen an already catastrophic cost-of-living crisis.

For the sake of Yorkshire, and indeed the rest of the country, the Government must reconsider their anti-obesity measures. The nanny state is not the answer to our public health issues.

Wolves of Westminster: Will the Government nanny the Blue Wall away?

Health charities, under the umbrella of the ‘Obesity Health Alliance’, can be found lobbying relentlessly for new taxes, new bans and new state interference of all kinds in the name of public health. Their undoubtedly well-intentioned manouevres miss the mark – they want to prevent heart disease and diabetes, and think restricting access to unhealthy foods is the way to accomplish that. But they simplify public health policy and fail to balance competing interests. They do not acknowledge the trade-offs involved.

Read the full article on Wolves of Westminster.