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Could tax breaks for healthy food sales work better than food taxes?

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+

20-May-2013
Last updated on 20-May-2013 at 10:54 GMT2013-05-20T10:54:14Z

Could tax breaks for healthy food sales work better than food taxes?

Incentivising the sale of healthy foods at the supermarket checkout could be more effective than food taxation for improving food choices, suggests a letter published in the BMJ.

In a letter to the editor, general practitioner and obesity researcher Dr Ian Lake suggests that tax incentives are likely to be more successful than punitive taxes in changing behaviour. Three-quarters of food sold in the UK is through just five supermarkets and many consumers use loyalty cards that can be used to track food purchases, meaning that changes in shopper behaviour could be easily followed.

Lake suggests that governments could draw up a list of healthy foods and reward supermarkets if they achieve a certain level of sales – although he admits that deciding which foods should be described as ‘healthy’ and which ‘unhealthy’ could prove contentious.

“By judicious use not only of the stick of taxation  on unhealthy foods but also adding a carrot to incentivise sales of healthy food, we can get the best brains in the retail industry to apply themselves to not just making money, but to do so whilst improving the health of the nation,” according to Lake.

He also says that while giving tax breaks to supermarkets could cost the exchequer in the short term, in the longer term, steering consumers toward healthier foods could help cut the costs associated with obesity and obesity-related illness.

 

What do you think? Could supermarket tax incentives help drive healthier choices? Would incentive schemes work better in conjunction with taxes on less healthy options?

Or is taxation entirely the wrong approach?

Have your say in the comments below…

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