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To tackle rising food prices and help citizens choose healthy and sustainable diets, I propose we price foods according to their health and environmental impact. Our diets, with their large portions of meat and dairy, are major risk factors for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, and are associated with one in five premature deaths. They are also major drivers of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental pollution. What we eat now determines what environment we will leave for future generations.

Unlike cigarettes or diesel, the prices we pay for food don’t reflect their health and environmental costs. This is a glaring omission, and one that leads to consumption decisions that are neither healthy nor sustainable. Nor is it good value for money, as citizens’ taxes will have to pay for the health and environmental costs of this gastro-gaslighting.

Introducing a fair and transparent pricing system for different foods that accounts for their true health, environmental, and social costs would help citizens choose diets that are healthier and more affordable, while also protecting the environment and its natural resources for future generations.

What we eat now determines what environment we will leave for future generations

Under fair pricing, meat and dairy would become more expensive. This in turn would create the revenue to provide targeted information campaigns on how to prepare healthy and sustainable meals, while making plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains more affordable to consumers—for example through rebates, targeted VAT cuts, or public health promotion programmes.

With the right delivery, interventions to correct our price signals would have few downsides. It could be cost-neutral for the government, and instead of nannying citizens it empowers them to choose diets that are affordable for them, their health and the planet. It also allows politicians to demonstrate they are less concerned about the profits of businesses that put our health and the environment at risk, and more concerned about the rights of citizens, their health, and the health of our environment—now and for generations to come.

This article was originally published as part of Minister for the Future in partnership with Prospect. Illustrations by Ian Morris. You can read the original feature on the Prospect website.