The past 12 months have seen a number of European countries agree to (Denmark, Hungary and Finland) or enter into discussions on the introduction of food levies (France, Belgium,,Ireland, Romania and Sweden) to fight obesity.
But president of the Brussels-based trade group, FoodDrinkEurope, Jesús Serafín Pérez, this week said such taxes only serve to dissuade investment and stifle innovation, place a strain on B2B relations and, ultimately, these levies, he argues are a regressive measure in bringing about positive behavioural change in consumption patterns of consumers to tackle obesity.
The trade body launched its Competitiveness Report 2011 on Tuesday, with it highlighting that food taxes are a barrier to growth and might also lead to discrimination between competing food categories. Their impact, notes the publication, “would be felt hardest by low income families.”
Thalia Constantinidou, scientific and regulatory affairs director, at Coca-Cola Europe, echoed the EU food and drink industry representatives, when speaking to this publication recently. She claims that such levies are more about revenue-generation in certain countries to reduce national debt that a way of tackling the obesity epidemic.
And the regulatory affairs director said that Coca-Cola has no intention to accelerate brand development or marketing initiatives in Europe based on proposal for taxes on sweetened drinks in some countries, such as France and Ireland. “Our stevia campaign will be proceeding as planned and is not influenced by such proposals,” remarked Constantinidou.
Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University London, doubted that the Danish decision would make a tax in the UK more likely. Political opposition to a similar tax in Britain was too strong, he told our sister site FoodManufacture.co.uk back in October.
But, the Danish tax was further evidence that countries around the world were realising the inadequacy of relying on “soft measures” alone to promote healthy eating. “It is interesting that Denmark, purveyor of fat to the masses, is doing this.”
He recommended monitoring the success of the Danish legislation and other regulations around the world, such as the French plan to tax soft drinks from next year. “Britain is burying its head in the sand about obesity. This reliance on business sorting it [the obesity problem] out won’t change behaviour.”
The British Nutrition Foundation, a charity which provides independent scientific advice on nutrition and health, points out: “There is currently little evidence to support taxation approaches as a means of encouraging people to make healthier food choices."
It reckons that a combination of interventions is likely to be most successful to improve diets. ”There are a number of dietary approaches that have been successful to date, including reformulation activities to reduce the salt content of foods,” it said.