In early October, Denmark became the first country in the world to introduce a fat tax targeted at saturated fats, which would see Danes pay more on foods that contain more than 2.3% saturated fat. The Danish fat tax calculates to 16 Kroner or NZ$3.7, and would cover meat, dairy, oils, snacks, and pre-cooked foods.
Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NFGC), told FoodNavigator-Asia that the concept of a ‘fat tax’ is nothing new and has been floated in food circles before.
According to Rich, while no country had adopted this concept, many other countries introduced ‘sin taxes’ on products they consider to be unhealthy, adding that “the Danish move is simply the first to concentrate on saturated fats.”
Rich welcomed the New Zealand’s health minister Tony Ryall’s rejection of calls for a fat tax in New Zealand, agreeing with his reasoning that it would add to the burden of many families in tight economic times.
Rich however added that that the fat tax fails the common sense test regardless of the economic situation, and that the NFGC has long advocated for a balanced approach to individual health, nutrition and weight.
She pointed out that numerous research studies and organisations such as the WHO agree there are many factors involved in obesity and ill health, including lifestyle and exercise.
“To target fat alone makes little sense, particularly given that nutritionists have shown that healthy people need a balanced diet including nutrients from sugar, protein, fibre, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and even fat,” she said.
Rich said that a fat tax sends the wrong impression that all fat is evil, and removes the spotlight from the real issue, which is how much any person consumes and to what extent it is balanced with exercise and activity.
Rich said that the Danish model was a simplistic and reductionist tax, which ignores the fact that “the full fat versions of milk and cheese may be high in fat but they are also a good source of calcium, protein and other nutrients, which make an important contribution to health, particularly for the young and old.”
According to Rich, the Food Industry Group (FIG), of which the NFGC is a part of, has labelled the ‘fat tax’ a “backward step for balanced family diets” which would be “unworkable in a New Zealand context.”
“It would make food more expensive for families and, while it would raise money for politicians to spend, a such a tax would be unlikely to have any real impact on obesity levels,” she said.