Unhealthy food tax. Better buy your burgers quick.
As a further and more serious step than the last week's fat tax, a new unhealthy food tax, aiming to curb soaring rates of obesity and diabetes, should be introduced in the UK, according to a leading epidemiologist. Clearly I already knew what an epidemiologist does, but for those of you who don’t know, it’s a bloke who studies health and illness in populations.
Professor Sir Nicholas Wald, director of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, wants to add to the cost of less healthy products to try and ‘encourage’ consumers to choose something healthier and put pressure on manufacturers and retailers to introduce healthier options and ingredients. Hey, it worked on car manufacturers- when CO2 ratings first came in there were no cars with a CO2 rating of under 100g/km, now there are lots.
But Prof Wald is not suggesting we levy a hamburger tax, like the unpopular proposals currently being floated in Hungary, but outlined his SASS tax at the annual Jephcott lectures last week. The new tax would be applied to salt, alcohol, sugar and saturated fats, the four major ingredients that contribute most to public health problems, although the tax would not apply to the ingredients sold separately (alcohol is already separately taxed).
Unsurprisingly, the products that would be most affected by the new tax would be fast food, ready meals, soft drinks and products containing alcohol, but less obvious products like bread would also see a price increase owing to the salt content, which contributes a significant amount of salt of the average 9g per day diet. We are very afraid for our beloved (salty) bacon.
But enough of this talk of healthiness, if BitterWallet readers want to eat burgers in their underwear all day, who are we to discourage you? Perhaps the effect on your wallet, rather than your waistline will have more of an effect. The tax would be levied at a penny a gram for sugar, saturated fats and alcohol, and a penny a tenth of a gram for salt, and this would see the cost of a Big Mac rise from £2.49 to £2.88, but a portion of Chicken McNuggets only rising 9p to £2.58. Bet the poultry population are worried.
The tax would boost Treasury coffers by £38bn a year, enough to cover much of the interest on the national debt or pay for one-third of the NHS, as well as reducing things like heart attacks and strokes meaning fewer people would need to use the NHS in the first place.
Other countries and US states have introduced similar taxes with mixed results. In 1991, California brought in a snack food tax that led to a 10% drop in sales, but scrapped the scheme the following year. Since 1992, Arkansas has raised $40m (£25m) a year from a tax that adds roughly two cents to 360ml cans of soft drinks. Last year, Denmark brought in taxes on chocolate, ice-cream and sugary soft drinks, and plans to introduce a further tax on saturated fat. Calfornia are again trying to tax this section of the market, with a new Soda tax bill levying one-cent tax per ounce having been proposed in the State legislature. Unsurprisingly Coca Cola are not fans.