Fat Tax

At a time where the government is deperately scrambling around trying to find new things to tax, inspiration may just be coming their way from Romania, which has just announced that it is about to introduce a \\fat tax\\ on products which the government deems to be unhealthy. The Romanians are planning to put a tax on fatty, salty and sugary foods including fast food, cakes, sweets, crisps and soft drinks. Their Health Minister argues that this will tackle two problems simultaneously, the poor quality of Romanians diets and a plunging public-sector budget as a result of the recession. They claim that all funds raised will be spent on government health programmes and to try to address the problem of obesity where a quarter of the population is said to be obese. Our government looked into the feasability of introducing a similar tax in 2004, focusing specifically at targeting dairy products and fast foods like cheeseburgers and pizzas but in the end they decided that it wasn't a workable solution. However, such a tax may not be far away. Barking and Dagenham Council in Essex is currently debating whether or not to impose a £1000 \\fat tax\\ on fast food restaurants. It looks like momentum is building and understandably farmers are concerned about these proposals. After being blamed for everything from global warming to biodiversity loss, many fear this is another attempt to demonise the fruits of their labour. I am with them on this because a \\fat tax\\ of the type being proposed in Romania not only smacks of trying to find another way to tax people, but it also threatens to lump many traditional farming foods in with modern \\manufactured\\ foods. If we take the premise for a second that this tax would actually make people eat less fatty foods, which incidently, I don't think it would, what exactly will be classed as a fatty food? Cheese contains just as much, if not more fat than a Mars Bar. Coca Cola and fresh orange juice have roughly the same amount of sugar. Would a \\fat tax\\ include all products which are liable to make us fat? If it did, cheese, milk and meat would be lumped into it as well. This is just what farmers need right now, an extra tax on their products when they are already struggling to meet the costs of production. Of course most proponents of a fat tax are targeting fizzy drinks, fast food and chocolate and not dairy products, however unless a fat tax is brought in sensibly and proportionally it has the potential to do untold harm to our farmers. We need to differentiate between naturally occuring fats and sugars, like those which exist in dairy products and fruits and the saturated or trans fats which have been essentially manufactured in order to make something taste nice. But this begs the question of what exactly is the purpose of a fat tax? To me it looks like a sneaky ruse to gain more revenue for government coffers rather than to actually deal with the problems of obesity. If we were genuinely trying to stop people eating fatty foods then we wouldn't use such a blunt method and would also introduce some kind of tax rebate or subsidy for foods that we deem to be healthy. We would also be encouraging people to exercise more, as food is only part of the equation. In Australia they recently launched a highly successful national sports drive called Active Australia, which was designed to get more people to try and to enjoy sport. If revenues from a fat tax went into such a programme the tax would probably be a lot more palatable, and may actually bring about some benefits with regards to the problems with obesity. But this still wouldn't deal with the main problem of a fat tax, which is that it would hit those on low incomes the hardest because they spend a higher proportion of their income on food. There is nothing wrong with a burger now and then, or a can of coke or a packet of sweets, but the key is moderation and balance. Something which is currently lacking in the argument a little which claims that all fatty food is bad, all healthy food is good. Something similar is happening with meat, where the debate is quickly turning to meat production is bad, no matter how it is produced and non meat diets are good, even if they are high in fat. We need to turn back this paternalistic approach to our food and trust people to make their own decisions about what they eat and how much exercise they do, whilst making it easy to do exercise and giving people all the information possible about their food. A balanced and healthy diet does include fatty foods but it also includes exercise. In the West Country we have the chance to enjoy not just great quality home grown food, including meat, cheese, butter and milk but we have the chance to burn off any extra calories we may consume by walking in the green rolling hills that make up much of our countryside. Government bureaucrats looking at new ways to tax us should remember this before they start imposing taxes which upset the balance of rural economies. In the West Country we have the answer on our doorsteps. Local food lowers the carbon footprint and ensures that we can \\eat the view\\, in other words local production ensures that the countryside remains green and well kept. This in turn provides leisure and sporting opportunities for everyone to come and stroll in the hills and enjoy the landscape we have to offer.