Belgian authorities lack appetite for food tax

Belgian authorities lack appetite for food tax

Is the food tax becoming an important weapon in the fight against obesity? Such a prospect is not yet on the cards in Belgium. A study at the University of Ghent has found little enthusiasm among policymakers, producers or consumers. To reach their findings, two master’s students in health sciences interviewed 25 key figures in policymaking circles and from producers’ and consumers’ organisations. They have summarised the results of their survey for the database of the Flemish Dissertation Award.

Isabelle Moncarey and Sofie Van den Abeele, two master’s students at UGent working under the supervision of Professors Ignaas Devisch and Lieven Annemans, investigated whether there is support for the introduction of food taxes in Belgium. To carry out their investigation, they interviewed the different stakeholders.
The introduction of food taxes would be a matter for the Federal Public Service (FPS) for Public Health. It is neither in favour of nor opposed to such a measure. It first wishes to examine the possible effect of food taxes, because the consequences are still unclear. Simulations indicate that food taxes can have a positive effect on shopping and consumption patterns. However, the taxes can take various different forms, some of which are rather more effective than others.

As a result of this uncertainty, other government services such as the FPS for the Economy and the FPS for Finance, which in the event of food taxes being introduced would have powers to control the measure, are somewhat sceptical. The producers’ organisations are also critical. Until it has been shown that such taxes work and hence improve public health, they regard them as primarily a fiscal experiment. The taxes would purely be of benefit to the government, which would be able to collect extra revenue. The producers also fear that food taxes would lead to job losses and the stigmatisation of certain products.

The consumers’ organisations are not particularly keen on such a tax either. Their main concern is about the possible social consequences. They fear that poorer families would be harder-hit by the tax, as it would further reduce their limited purchasing power. However, some consumers’ representatives take a more favourable view of food taxes, provided their introduction produces clear health benefits and is supported by awareness-raising campaigns.

“Food taxes will not be introduced in Belgium any time soon. Their effectiveness would first need to be demonstrated, but this would require research into food taxes, and so far there are no concrete plans for such studies. Maybe that will change soon with a new government,” conclude the researchers.

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