On 23 June, as part of a special report on regulating consumers, the EU media outlet Euractiv reported on the current debate in Europe and across national markets on how government can encourage consumers to make healthier choices through reformulation rather than discriminatory taxation.
The article underlines that EU authorities have launched several initiatives to tackle obesity, but that at national level, governments are discussing the possibility to introduce food taxes, including soft drinks taxes. However, the health benefits of such taxes have not been proven.
Euractiv reports that the soft drinks industry has been an early mover in this debate, reducing by 12% the calorie content in its products from 2000 to 2015 and committing to reduce sugar by a further average 10% between 2015 and 2020, in the context of recent EU policy initiatives to curb obesity and non-communicable diseases, in particular through encouraging reformulation.
The article also notes that the move from the soft drinks industry was applauded by BEUC, the EU’s consumer organisation, which indicated that “it is encouraging that EU member states have made food recipes improvement a top priority”.
The full article is available here.
A broad consensus against the introduction of a sugar tax in the Netherlands has emerged from parties across the political spectrum.
Asked about their position on the issue following the debate in the UK, some Dutch politicians expressed opposition to changing citizens’ behavior through taxation: “People should decide for themselves what they eat and drink“, said Erik Ziengs, from the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). A view shared also by Reinette Klever, Member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the Party for Freedom (PVV), according to whom a sugar tax would be “patronizing“. Others, like Hanke Bruins Slot of the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), stressed that “Sugar is a natural product”.
The Socialist Party, which is working towards less sugar and salt in products, has ruled out taxation as an effective measure, preferring instead to push manufacturers to use less sugar and salt.
More strikingly, even parties in favour of a sugar tax like the Labour Party (PvdA) do not have a clear proposal on how to make it technically feasible. “It would mean a lot of hassle”, admitted Ed Groot, Member of the Dutch House of Representatives for the PvdA.
The full article (in Dutch) can be found at: http://www.telegraaf.nl/binnenland/24811269/__Suikertaks_niet_in_zicht__.html
According to an article from Die Welt the Federal Minister of Food, Christian Schmidt (CSU) rejects a tax on sugary drinks on the model of the one announced by the British Government on March 16 2016. The Ministry spokesperson reminded that previous tax attempts in the EU did not achieved the desired results, instead they have been very costly to implement and manage.
Detlef Groß, president of the German association for the non-alcoholic beverages, recognizes that «obesity is a complex phenomenon», one that cannot be stopped by a one-sided discriminatory tax on a single product category. Mr. Groß also reminded that soft drinks accounted for only a small part of the daily caloric intake as the the sector offers consumers a wide range of options, both with and without sugar.
The Ministry seems is on the same page as it states that taking action on soft drinks alone would be irrelevant; instead it envisions a holistic approach, stressing that people has to be convinced to pursue a healthy lifestyle, rather than forcing them to change their habits through legal constraints. According to the Ministry the key to healthy practices is in the school system which should educate and inform the population since childhood in order to foster “nutritional competence”. At the same time the Federal Government created a €2 millions research fund to study the reduction of salt, sugar and fat in processed food.
Please find the original article on Die Welt website.
The Finnish government has scrapped a plan to replace the current tax on sweets with a tax on sugar, stressing that such measure would be difficult to implement and its health impact is not clear.
The idea for a sugar tax was tabled by the National Institute for Health and Wellness (THL) – a research and development institute under the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health – to replace the existing excise duty on sweets, which has been abolished with effect as of January 2017 after the European Commission suggested it could constitute unlawful state aid.
The consequent loss of revenues has forced some government officials to look for other fiscal measures, making clear that the main reason behind a sugar tax would be economical.
However, the Ministry of Finance itself has ruled out this option. Through Merja Sandell, it stressed that a sugar tax “would be a bureaucratic burden” and difficult to put in place. Another senior official said it will not lead to the desired health effects.
The full article is available (in Swedish) here.
In an interview available on the website of the Bulgarian Ministry of Finance, the Minister Vladislav Goranov, asked to comment on the matter, has voiced his opposition to the much debated proposal of a ‘food tax’.
The Finance Minister questioned whether it is appropriate to change consumers’ behaviour through the introduction of new taxes, adding that this very goal would fail. Moreover, he expressed his concern that such a measure could result in the smuggling of similar goods not subject to taxation from neighbouring countries.
In conclusion, Minister Goranov stated that most likely this type of tax will not be introduced.