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Danish meat group claims 'fat tax' violates EU law

By Jane Byrne , 20-Jan-2012

A Danish meat lobby group is suing the Danish government over the country’s recently introduced 'fat tax' on foods, claiming the levy fails to comply with EU legislation.

The tarrif, which faced intense opposition from the food industry, applies to foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat, and came into force on October 1 last year.

The surcharge, levied on foods such as cheese, butter, pizza, biscuits, oils and meats, is intended to help combat obesity and heart disease but the Danish Butchers Association (DSM), which has launched the legal challenge over the fat tax, claims it distorts competition between small and large businesses and violates the Lisbon Treaty.

The meat group’s comments echo those of the European Dairy Association back in October, with the trade body claiming levy would increase administrative burdens for Danish and foreign industries.

In addition, the EDA argued it would and create inequality between domestic and imported products due to taxation differences, with taxes dependent either solely on the content of saturated fats and the addition of fats used when foods were prepared in Denmark.

"This creates an imbalance in the internal market which has to be discussed on European level," the EDA said.

The legislation is part of a growing trend in Europe to impose so called ‘sin taxes’ on food and drinks associated with poor health and obesity.

This month also saw French lawmakers approve legislation for a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in the country.

The duty, originally proposed last year, will form part of French austerity measures passed to help battle the debt crisis. The tax is expected to generate around €120m ($156m) in revenue for the French government.

And last year Hungary introduced a levy on goods with high fat, sugar and salt content, including soft drinks. Now, the Polish government, according to domestic media reports, is also said to be weighing up the benefits of introducing similar measures.

The pan-European food industry body, Food and Drink Europe, opposes fat taxes because it views them as being “discriminatory”.

The group has emphasised that such measures unfairly target particular types of food when it is overall dietary habits that are the problem (the argument that there are no bad foods par se, just bad diets).

It also states that such taxes unfairly prejudice the lower-income sections of society that typically purchase the affected foodstuffs in the greatest numbers.

Germany's agriculture minister, Ilse Aigner, has also criticised such measures, saying in an interview with a German newspaper recently that such legislative approaches only serve to dictate what people should eat.

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