The UK food industry has rejected fresh calls for the imposition of a tax on unhealthy foods.

Modelling studies suggest extending VAT (at 17.5%) to unhealthy foods in the UK could cut up to 2,700 heart disease deaths a year, scientists at the University of Oxford have claimed.

However, the UK would need to put a so-called “fat tax” of 20% on unhealthy food and drink in order to have a “significant effect” the number of people suffering from diet-related diseases such as obesity and heart disease, the medical experts headed by Dr Oliver Mytton suggested.

In addition, the group said that evidence suggests taxing a wide range of unhealthy foods is likely to result in greater health benefits than “narrow taxes”.

They argue that such a move could be combined with subsidies on healthier foods, such as fruit and vegetables.

The group released its findings ahead of the 65th World Health Assembly, to be held in Geneva next week. Prevention and control of non-communicable diseases will be key issues for discussion at the conference.

Responding to the report, industry association the Food and Drink Federation insisted that it is working towards “meaningful” progress on health issues through the UK government’s Responsibility Deal.

“When the whole of the food industry is focused on continuing to give hard-pressed families great tasting food at an affordable price, discussion of adding 20% to food prices seems fanciful if not irresponsible,” FDF director of communications Terry Jones said.