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Last updated: 26 February 2021

The Hidden Cost of Food in the UK

Did You Know You Pay Twice for Your Food?

UK consumers pay twice as much for food as it appears on their shopping bill, according to the report The Hidden Cost of UK Foods by the Sustainable Food Trust. This means that for every £1 UK citizens spend on food, they incur an additional hidden cost of £1.

UK consumers spend £120 billion on food every year. Additionally, the UK food sector creates supplementary costs of £120 billion. However, the hidden costs are not included in the retail price of the food, nor are they paid for by the businesses that generate them. The hidden cost is transferred to society, which means that UK citizens pay twice for their food.

Hidden Cost of Food Infographic

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There are many ways in which the UK food sector generates hidden costs. The most notable of them are damaging impacts of intensive production, food-related healthcare, imports to the UK, farm support payments, and regulations.

The damaging impacts of intensive production such as environmental pollution, soil degradation and biodiversity loss are a serious concern since they cost taxpayers £48.63 billion every year, which represents 36.3% of the total annual hidden food system externality costs (costs that affect a party who did not choose to incur those costs).

UK citizens pay for a part of these hidden costs through general and local taxation, water charges, and purchases of bottled water. The rest of the hidden costs are paid through time to reduce global warming, ozone depletion, soil degradation, and biodiversity loss.

Hidden costs have many negative consequences for both the UK consumers and the environment. By incurring hidden costs, UK citizens end up paying twice for their food. Furthermore, hidden costs enable the continuation of environmentally damaging production practices while discouraging food providers from adopting sustainable practices and keeping the retail price lower than it should normally be.

To discourage unsustainable production practices in the UK food sector, consumers need to get involved and demand increased transparency from the food industry when it comes to the hidden and true costs of food. Furthermore, they need to support all initiatives that are attempting to improve the UK food system and the global food system. These initiatives aim to make food healthier and production more environmentally friendly while they ensure sustainable sourcing of imported foods.

UK consumers must examine health and nutrition claims carefully and adopt healthy diets that are consistent with sustainable production. Demanding more opportunities related to growing your own food or gaining on-farm practice from local and national governments is recommended to consumers.

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