Taxing highly-fattening foods could potentially reduce harmful climate emissions, a new study by Scottish-based experts has found.

A new study recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, from the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute, the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has found that taxing foods high in fats, sugar and salt (HFSS) could potentially reduce emissions from food consumption.

But the research has warned that it’s unlikely that one policy could achieve both nutritional and climate goals.

The study, based on the analysis of secondary data collected from 3,260 households in Scotland across 18 food categories, aimed to understand the impact of a tax on HFSS food purchases.

Read more: Climate change: Scottish researchers publish new map

The investigation looked at either taxing all HFSS products while keeping the prices of other food items unchanged or taxing HFSS products while subsidising fruit and vegetables with the revenue generated.

The research found that imposing taxes on HFSS products led to a reduction in their consumption due to prices rising.

Specifically, a 10% tax on HFSS food groups, combined with subsidising fruits and vegetables using tax revenues, resulted in a 5–9% decline in HFSS consumption and an 11% and 7% increase in vegetable and fruit consumption, respectively.

When tax revenues were used to subsidise fruit and vegetables, greenhouse gas emissions increased by 2%, but emissions decreased by 3% when only HFSS food groups were taxed.

Read more: SNP ministers told it’s time to talk about eating less meat and dairy

The study also found that taxing HFSS without a subsidy policy in place could have a more regressive impact on consumers compared to when fruits and vegetables were subsidised.

Dr Wisdom Dogbe, from the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute, who led the study, said: “This study shows us that there are very real trade-offs between achieving dietary, welfare and environmental goals.

“Going forward, this research can be considered in ongoing discussions about the banning of promotions on HFSS.

"If there weren’t promotions on these products, and prices were to naturally increase as a result, we believe this could be beneficial as it may encourage consumers to reduce their purchases.

“Ultimately, our research highlights the complex interplay between dietary, welfare, and environmental goals when implementing a HFSS tax policy. The choice of policy scenario adopted by the government would have to depend on the national objectives and priorities.”

In its recommendations for the Scottish Government to reach its climate targets, statutory advisers the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has set out recommendations on meat and dairy consumption.

It said the Government should “take low-cost, low-regret actions” and “encourage a 20% shift away from all meat by 2030, rising to 35% by 2050”.

The organisation has also demanded “a 20% shift from dairy products by 2030, demonstrating leadership in the public sector whilst improving health”.

The CCC's chief executive, Chris Stark, told The Herald that getting the public their behaviour around food is "politically challenging" for governments.

He added: “The thing is, we do not need that much of a behaviour change, but collectively it is important.

“We need to look to the behavioural change stuff in Scotland or we will need a more difficult brand of politics to reach the targets.

“Tougher decisions will be needed elsewhere if we do not.”

The Scottish Government has previously said it works with other agencies to investigate "the evidence base surrounding diet, health and climate impacts", which "will inform future policy", including its new climate change plan that will be published by the end of the year.

The Herald understands that the UK Government does not consider now to be the right time to introduce new taxes that would push up the cost of food.

The sugar tax or Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL) is constantly reviewed by the UK Government.

Meanwhile, experts at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh have developed a new ingredient which has the potential to replace palm oil in bakery products - with cultivating the greasy substance blamed on deforsestation .

The university claims the novel replacement ingredient could offer significant solutions for the food industry allowing manufacturers to satisfy increasing consumer demand for tasty, lower fat, healthier food products, whilst reducing deforestation of the world’s rainforests. 

 Working successfully as a replacement for palm-based fat in baked goods, the newly developed ingredient, which has 25% less fat and 88% less saturated fat, allows goods, such as cakes and biscuits, to maintain their texture, flavour and colour.