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
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.
A new study on the effects of the Mexican tax on sugar sweetened beverages published in the medical journal ‘The BMJ’ has triggered different reactions among experts, after finding a 6% drop in sales, while an increase in consumption of bottled water and other non-taxed drinks.
A research team from Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, a federal health agency, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill compared sales data before and after the implementation of the tax, looking at purchasing patterns in more than 6,000 households across 53 large Mexican cities. They found that on average in 2014 the sales of sugary beverages fell by 6%. The decline was particularly high among low income households, whose consumption had fallen 17%, confirming the discriminatory effect of such a tax.
Some observers looked at these findings as the proof that taxation can influence consumers’ behaviour, while others are more cautious, questioning whether such a measure is appropriate and warning of its multiple and complicated side effects. The study itself concludes that at the moment it cannot be foreseen “whether the trend continues or stabilizes” and if “consumers substitute cheaper brands or untaxed foods and beverages for the taxed ones, or adjustments occur in the longer term”.
Franco Sassi from OECD, in an editorial published on ‘The BMJ’ together with the study, underlined that taxes do not necessarily lead to healthier diets and the “full extent of substitutions made by Mexican consumers is not known”. Mr. Sassi also added that “taxes are not simple tools, and designing them to engineer an improvement in people’s diets is especially complex”. The approach to a problem like the one of obesity should be comprehensive, much broader than just taxation: education, voluntary initiatives by the industry and regulatory measures (e.g. labelling) are some examples.
“Taxes (…) cannot be viewed as a magic bullet in the fight against obesity” – he concluded.
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.
When asked to comment on Jamie Oliver’s controversial ‘sugar tax’, Dutch experts expressed their doubts regarding the efficacy of such measure when it comes to improving public health.
A tax on sugar barely makes sense because consumption may decrease only if prices substantially increase, according to Astrid Postma-Smeets, nutrition and health expert at the Voedingscentrum (Dutch Nutrition Centre). The Nutrition Center is the authority that provides consumers with independent and science-based information on healthy, safe and more sustainable food choices. Instead of campaigning for a ‘sugar-tax’, the Centre is convinced that the best approach to obesity is prevention and education.
Also Jos Look, board member of the Dutch Obesity Society, has his doubts on taxation, especially on soft drinks: “Almost 51 percent of the Dutch population is overweight and more than a third of them is severely overweight. And that is certainly not only because of a Coke. You can find added sugars in everything: even in packaged fresh fruit salad”.
The original article published in De Telegraaf can be found here.