The proposal, which seeks to amend Section 151 of the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, was filed late last year as a way “to pressure citizens into adopting a healthier diet”.
It states: “On manufactured goods that have sodium chloride, or any of its derivatives, as an ingredient… a junk food a tax of PHP1.00 shall be levied on every milligram of sodium in excess of one-third of the allowable daily intake of sodium chloride, as prescribed by the Department of Health.”
The measure already has the support of the finance ministry as part of a package of health taxes that include a levy on sugar, though some politicians have criticised how it could significantly add to the price of staple packaged foods like instant noodles.
Lianda Bolilia, a member of the ways and means committee, has said that a sodium tax would hit the poor hardest. Impecunious communities that eat large amounts of junk, canned and processed foods are also the highest consumers of salt, she claimed.
Fellow lawmaker Carlos Isagani Zarate said the House of Representatives should not allow an “anti-poor” bill to be passed.
“The passage of this measure would greatly affect the purchasing power of lower-income groups and the poor, who buy noodles and canned sardines,” Zarate said.
The move has also drawn the anger of Consumer Fight, a consumer’s rights group, whose leader said the issue of salt in processed foods would be better applied to the enforcement of an existing law from 1995—the so-called Act for Salt Iodisation Nationwide Act, which was implemented by the National Nutrition Council.
According to the group, the consumption of salt forms part of the government’s nutritional policy, as iodised salt contains favourable nutrients, especially for children.
It said that, under the terms of the law, the correct levels of iodised salt should already be applied to processed foods. Good enforcement of these should be sufficient to control sodium intake without the need for a levy on excesses.
“Are salt ingredients of manufactured and processed foods in compliance with the National Nutrition Council guidelines? And what is the status of the roadmap for the development of the salt industry to be at par with appropriate sanitation, environment and health issues?” the group asked lawmakers.
Victorio Mario Dimagiba, its president, has also questioned why the sodium tax amendment has been raised at a time of ongoing debate over the implementation of excise taxes on sugar in soft drinks. Such a move might be used to steamroll opinion, he suggested.
According to Consumer Fight, lawmakers should take more time to consider how to apply existing laws, rather than resorting immediately to levies.
“What has the National Nutrition Council done so far after 20 years on the ASIN Law? It is not all about taxes,” Dimagiba said.
Other countries, including Vietnam, Uganda, Tanzania, Suriname, Sri Lanka, Panama, Morocco, Kenya, Jordan and Cambodia, already impose heavy taxes on salt.