French legislators demand ‘sober’ diet with ‘more vegetables’ in bid to call time on ready-meal rise

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages/Dzggyfoto
Pic: GettyImages/Dzggyfoto

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Senators are proposing to tax foods with ‘poor nutritional’ quality amid concerns consumers are eating ‘too many calories and too much meat’ in a bid to force the food industry to design ‘less sweet, salty and fatty dishes’.

A report entitled ‘towards sustainable food: a major health, social, territorial and environmental challenge for France’, published by the French Senate’s committee for forward planning, advocates a ‘more sober and more vegetable diet’.

It suggests to "clean up the food supply by encouraging or forcing the reformulation of recipes for industrial dishes (limitation of salt, sugar or saturated fat)".

The report won cross-party approval, and with President Macron’s government’s parliamentarians backing the proposal, it is expected to be turned into law.

‘Irreversible’ changes to the French diet

France may be renowned for its unique gastronomic heritage, but in the report the senators highlighted research showing that the pre-cooked meal market had risen by an average of 4.4% a year since 1960, while the time spent by the French in their kitchens had dropped by a quarter over the past 25 years. The report added that with an ageing population and more people living alone, pre-cooked meals were likely to continue growing at least until 2025.

“Our diet has become richer in energy and animal products, and further processed and (even now ultra-transformed) by industry​,” said the senators. “Food consumption away from home is also a lot more developed. At the same time as our plates, it is our symbolic links to diet that have changed. It is likely that many of the traits of our food will last, because they are linked to [strong] sociological and economic trends, a change in our lifestyles which seems irreversible.”

The report complained that ‘healthy and eco-sustainable’ food could only be enjoyed by affluent people. “Low-income households have concentrated health problems linked to overly rich and unbalanced food inherited from the twentieth century,”​ it said.

Tax on foods high in salt, sugar and salt, vending machine bans

The senators have proposed a food tax similar to the soda tax in France introduced in 2013, and which was increased in 2017. The senators propose to "tax, on the model of the soda tax, certain foods because of their poor nutritional quality (for example those classified D or E in the Nutriscore).”​ They said the proceeds of the tax would be used to fund nutrition education and ‘healthy food vouchers’ that people could use to buy fresh fruits or vegetables. They said they envisioned to “clean up the food supply by encouraging or by forcing the reformulation of revenues industrial dishes (limitation of salt, sugar or saturated fat), by regulating the supply of snacking of vending machines, generalizing nutrition labelling and environmental, by banning products displaying a Nutriscore D or E in the promotional corridors of large surfaces or by regulating food advertising television or cinema to children”.

Jean-Luc Fichet, one of the senators who wrote the report, also said: “There are good grounds for legislating to improve the recipes produced by the industry.”

The senators proposed 20 measures in total including fewer imports of protein, in particular the case of soy intended for animal feed. They called for ‘legume recipes’ be ‘put back in the spotlight in the kitchen’ and for investment to develop ‘more productive legume varieties and less sensitive to hazards. They added they said they wanted to ‘support research efforts independent scientist to measure health effects of pesticide residues and food additives used by industry’.

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