Food tax - a weapon of mass reduction?

Taxing food to combat obesity is based on assumptions of human behaviour – says Chief Executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority Alan Reilly.

The underlying rationale of food taxes is that by taxing the less healthy ingredients in foods, prices will rise, and consumption of these ingredients will decrease and reduction in obesity rates will follow. That is a lot of assumptions. Human behaviour is harder to predict.

Mr. Reilly highlights the many problems of trying to use tax to shape consumer behaviour – producers absorbing prices, special offers, brand loyalty, cross-border shopping and the fact that even if a switch is made, there is no guarantee that consumers will switch to a healthier food. As well as the economic impacts – for the economy at large and the impact on the purchasing power of low-income households.

With soft-drinks becoming the focus for such taxes, Mr. Reilly questions whether this is backed up by evidence.

“Data from the National Food Consumption Study carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA) show that sugar-sweetened beverages contribute less than 4% of the total energy intake of Irish consumers.”

Alternative solutions are possible – making the healthy choice the cheaper option, reformulation, and alternate technologies.

“Obesity is a multi-faceted problem, and requires multi-dimensional interventions but ones which we can be certain will have the desired outcome.”

You can read the full article in the FSAI newsletter by following this link.

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