Claire Rowan is group technical editor, magazines, FoodBev Media. This is a personal blog and views expressed are her own.
Wow, the war on fat has just become even trickier according to a report by EurActiv, which declares that the European Commission (EC) suspects that Denmark’s so-called “fat tax”, introduced in 2011 but scrapped a year later, could be considered illegal state aid.
“At the opening of the case on Thursday (5 February), the EU executive said it sought to determine whether or not food producers who were not forced to add an extra fat tax on their products received illegal assistance,” reports EurActiv, which points out that the Danish fat tax was introduced by the previous centre-right government to promote healthier diets and came into effect in October 2011. The tax was put on meat, dairy products, oils and other foods which contained more than 2.3% of saturated fat. But the new centre-left government currently in power decided to abolish the tax in January 2013, citing administrative burdens. The Commission’s current view is that all products with saturated fats should have had the fat tax added.
Right from the outset, FoodDrinkEurope highlighted concerns about the complexity that would be created by Denmark’s measures. In, 2012, it welcomed Denmark’s move to abolish the “fat tax”, which it says confirmed what food business operators and others had been saying in Europe since the introduction of the fiscal measure.
“I am puzzled why the Commission raises this case now, when the tax was repealed more than two years ago,” Benny Engelbrecht, the Danish minister of taxation, said in a statement to EurActiv. “But the (Danish) government will have a dialogue with the Commission in order to find a sensible solution. We will do everything we can in order to make sure that this won’t be the reality.”
According to EurActiv, if the Commission concludes that other producers’ products should have been included into the overall fat tax scheme, Denmark will have to collect the extra tax with compound interest.
We clearly need to tackle the issue of excess consumption of fat, sugar and salt in order to trim waistbands and improve the health of the population, but the topic engenders such controversy, as this EC case demonstrates, that it is difficult to see how and where a consensus can be found.
The failure of the fat tax scheme in Denmark and this ensuing challenge go a long way to support FoodDrinkEurope’s assertion that discriminatory food taxes: generate higher food prices for consumers, leading to increased cross-border shopping and local job losses; are cumbersome to implement, creating administrative and bureaucratic burdens; impact negatively on the competitiveness of Europe’s largest manufacturing industry; and, are ineffective in changing consumer behaviour in relation to complex issues such as diets and lifestyles that affect obesity trends. Indeed, FoodBev Media’s Richard Hall voiced such reservations on Foodbev.com as far back as 2011! With the worldwide prevalence of obesity more than doubling between 1980 and 2014, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is clearly a lot that needs to be done to stem this world issue, but further investment in education about moderation, self responsibility, and a healthy diet and exercise – rather than penalties for food manufacturers – wouldn’t go amiss!
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2022
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