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Should a special tax be applied to "junk" food and applied to offset the costs of healtier foods?

We’ve all been told the virtues of eating healthy and reducing our intake of unnatural, processed, sugary fatty foods. However due to the economies of scale generated by huge multinational corporations it is often cheaper to eat unhealthy.

For example a bottle of Coke is usually cheaper than a bottle of juice or milk. A McDonalds happy meal is usually cheaper than a fresh salad sandwich. A chocolate bar is usually cheaper than a piece of fruit.

Therefore in order to promote healthier eating and increase its affordability should we be applying an additional tax to food and beverages that fall into certain categories and using this revenue to offset the price of health, natural foods?

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    Apr 17 2012: I don't think it is necessary because junk food itself is already heavily subsidized. All that is needed is for industrial food and agriculture subsidies to be slowly removed. Most of these subsidies are in the corn industry, which is the largest ingredient in most junk food. If corn wasn't so cheap, corn fed beef and dairy, corn chips, corn syrup drinks, and corn syrup candy wouldn't be cheaper than vegetables.

    I guess if the subsidies are in another country and beyond a specific jurisdictions control, it might be justified. Here in Canada, I would be surprised if we could do it without violating some trade agreement. We would probably get sued for lost profits by the junk food corps. Canada has signed away a lot of its power in the name of "free trade"
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    Apr 13 2012: Food taxation In the UK is very confusing, most people think of food as being tax free - and much of our basic food produce is zero-rated for VAT, for example fruit and vegetables, bread, milk, butter, cooking oils, dry rice and pasta, breakfast cereals, unprocessed meat and fish, unshelled or raw nuts and pulses and most tinned and frozen products.

    However, many items widely sold in supermarkets and convenience stores are subject to standard-rate VAT (currently 20%). These include alcoholic drinks, fruit juice, soft drinks and mineral water, sweets and confectionery, crisps, savoury snacks, shelled and salted or roasted nuts, chocolate coated biscuits, hot takeaways and ice cream. A seemingly disparate mix of products. All produced, packaged, marketed and shelved to be eye-catching - and with no label saying they are subject to 20% VAT!

    However, many fatty, salty or sugary processed foods are not subject to VAT - such anomalies include battered fish, oven chips, ready meals, flavoured rice and pasta meals, pies, pot noodles and pizzas all appear to be zero-rated if purchased tinned, chilled and ready to microwave or frozen! No wonder customers are confused!

    When considering basic foods such as fruit and vegetables - only seasonal, non-packaged produce is actually reasonably priced. Non-seasonal produce is expensive because of the air / road miles travelled and the premium added for meeting the consumer’s “wants“. Pre-washed, weighed and bagged fruit and vegetables are also often considerably more expensive as they incur a convenience charge.

    1) Retailer’s should be made to display which products are subject to VAT so that consumers can make informed decisions.

    2) Existing VAT on food should be used to reduce the cost of healthy food products.

    3) A clear and coherent criteria for identifying which food and drink products should be subject to VAT needs to be established.
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    Apr 12 2012: I love this idea!!
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    Apr 12 2012: Food is food and is not in itself a problem.Government diktats are implemented by bureaucracies which operate on the basis of rules rather than intelligent thinking, and there is ample evidence of bureaucratic pronouncements on nutrition and other health matters being proved wrong.

    There's nothing wrong with the occasional McDonalds meal, and nothing wrong with the occasional coke. Why penalise the entire population just because some people develop bad habits?
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    Apr 12 2012: Denmark already do this, see
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15137948
    because
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228356.600-worlds-first-fat-tax-what-will-it-achieve.html

    Britain is just about to introduce it, see
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/dec/21/sugary-soft-drinks-obesity-tax?CMP=twt_gu

    Results are yet to be published...

    My personal opinion is that there is something seriously wrong with the world when highly processed food can be cheaper than fresh fruit and veg which hasn't been processed at all.

    I'm glad to see people like Jamie Oliver educate people on better food choices (http://foodrevolutionday.com/) and I think this is more important to tackling obesity than tax.

    I like the idea of a fat-tax as it reduced the incentives to produce and consume it. Once you get into good eating habits you realise how junk food saps your energy rather than gives you energy. Reduce demand and you will reduce supply.

    Healthy people are happy people!
    • Apr 12 2012: Thanks Alexander.

      I was aware that Denmark was implementing a tax along these lines which I thought was very proactive given their national obesity rate is one of the lowest in Europe, although I was unaware that Britain was about to introduce it.

      I agree with you about Jamie Oliver, given all the money and success he has achieved, to continue to educate the public about the virtues of healthy eating, I find remarkable. Educating people about healthier eating is probably more important than applying a tax, however the tax would help to make it more affordable.
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        Apr 13 2012: So do you mean using the tax revenues to fund the education programmes? Then, as the problem solves, the money reduces with it. Good idea!
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    Apr 12 2012: As strange as some people might find it, you're right.

    It is cheaper to buy a Mac meal and a 2.25 litre of coke than to give your children a healthy lunch for their school day or dinner,though Mcdonalds have their salad bar and coffee area they still push their original lines.