Knowledge for better food systems

Report by the Sustainable Food Trust estimates externalities of UK food consumption

This new report by the Sustainable Food Trust, ‘The hidden cost of UK food’, presents an analysis of the price of the externalities (and subsidies) of the UK food system, which they compare to the amount of money spent on food and non-alcoholic drink at consumer outlets. 

The organisation presents its main finding as follows: ‘UK citizens pay twice as much for food as they realise. (...) For each £1 spent on food in the shops, consumers incur extra hidden costs of £1.’

As with all studies costing externalities, there are great uncertainties around the actual values of different environmental or social losses. As such there are various numbers in the report which could be questioned. While in places the author attempts to make conservative estimates, overall they do engage in some double counting and unusual estimates of cost. For example, following a study by WRAP their total of £120bn in ‘hidden costs’ includes £12 billion (10%) in environmental and social cost for food waste. However, another category in the study is environmental cost of all produced food. As this includes both consumed and wasted food, the total estimate of the hidden cost of the food system is therefore almost certainly too high.

Note that the study does not consider the environmental cost of foods produced elsewhere but consumed in the UK, nor does it discount for the environmental cost of foods produced in the UK and then exported .

You can find the full report and a summary of it here. The report is discussed on the BBC World Service, which you can listen to here (26:40).

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