With Denmark having just been the first country to introduce a “Fat Tax”, the online community has been awash with criticism. Will governments in Australia and New Zealand impose similar legislation onto us in the future?
What’s happening in Denmark?
Denmark already had additional taxes on sugar, chocolate and soft drinks, but they have just introduced a tax on saturated fat. A tax of 16 kroner ($2.95 AUD/ $3.72 NZD) per kilo of saturated fat, where the product contains over 2.3% fat, will be passed onto the consumer. This would add about 50 cents AUD to the price of a pack of butter. So if my calculations are correct, that would add on about $2.50 AUD to the one litre tin of coconut oil I bought last week – but under 30 cents AUD to the same volume of cheap, nasty vegetable oil? The calculation sounds overly complex and it based on the fat used in creating a product, rather than the percentage fat in the final product. This sounds like a recipe for Frankenfoods, rather than whole, unprocessed foods…
The motives of Denmark, which are to increase the countries average life expectancy, may be honourable. However, their execution is based solely on the incorrect lipid hypothesis; despite it now becoming more widely accepted that saturated fat is not the cause of obesity and heart disease.
I also have serious concerns about a government deciding what we should or should not eat. Where people have access to health information and resources it should be their choice what they eat. This is even more imperative where the government in question is basing their health views on incorrect, outdated fads such as the lipid hypothesis. Such a fat tax penalises eating a healthy Paleo diet, despite this being, what I would consider, the healthiest diet going.
What about Australia?
With 60% of Australian adults and 40% of children being classed as obese, the “Obesity Policy Coalition” is lobbying for a “fat tax”, using the proceeds gained from “unhealthy” foods to subsidise “healthy” foods. I've found it very hard to get to the bottom of what this coalition considers “unhealthy” foods, but have written to them to ask them to clarify this (I'll keep you updated if I get a response). Looking on their site however, I fear they subscribe to the lipid hypothesis – which may mean they would endorse taxing on a similar basis to Denmark.
A proposal was bought to the Australian government in 2009 by the “National Preventative Health Taskforce” calling for a tax on “unhealthy foods” (again, I've not been able to see exactly what they define as “unhealthy” in this context). This was not responded to by the government. Indeed the federal health minister Nicola Roxon has recently said that the government are putting their efforts into tackling obesity using methods other than administration. Hopefully this means no “fat tax” in Australia in the near future.
And New Zealand?
The “Food Industry Group of New Zealand” last week spoke out on the new tax in Denmark, saying it is very unlikely to have any positive effects on obesity levels. They feel the tax will make food more expensive and could actually put health of children and elderly at risk. They will not be recommending a similar fat tax in New Zealand.
So it looks like in this part of the world, we’ll continue to be free to make our own food choices. I'm interested to see how the new tax is received in Denmark and how it changes the eating habits and health of the nation.
What do you think? Should government dictate what we eat, using taxes? Would a tax on all foods that aren't Paleo be justified?