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Fat tax harmonisation a speck on the horizon

By Sarah Hills , 05-Apr-2012
Last updated on 06-Apr-2012 at 10:05 GMT

The European Commission has said it has no intention of pursuing harmonisation of fat taxes but there are hints that it could be welcome further down the line.

So-called fat taxes have been imposed on food and drinks that are thought to be linked with poor health and obesity – typically those that are high in fat, sugar or salt.

Countries that have already introduced such taxes include Denmark, Hungary, Finland and France.

The Commission is clear on its stance that harmonisation is not on the agenda. However, Monika Kosinska, the secretary general of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), has suggested that if national schemes are successful, it could be in years to come.

Kosinska told FoodNavigator.com: “Given that taxation remains firmly a national competence - for the moment at least - it is too early to foresee any trends from the different approaches taken by Member States, however any step in reducing the overwhelming burden of chronic diseases and obesity is very welcome.”

Rolf Diemar, Head of unit, environment and other indirect taxes, DG TAXUD, European Commission also commented recently on a possible EU-wide fat tax at the Nutrition and Lifestyle conference in Brussels last month.

Speaking in a panel discussion called “Fat taxes one year on: A useful measure in the fight against obesity”, Diemar said: “If there was a critical mass among member states it would be possible but that is not the case at the moment.”

He added: “We may take a look at the legal perspective. But not yet.”

Diemar said that taxes were primarily to raise revenue and there was no evidence that excise taxes affect health.

Industry view

A move towards harmonisation could add a level playing field among Member States, but the legal framework is said to be “limited” and the taxes have proved unpopular with the food and drink industry.

Daniele Rossi of FoodDrinkEurope, also speaking at the panel discussion, said: “If you tax the food industry it will stifle healthy food innovation. We need responsible citizens and not a pedagogical state.”

“We totally oppose food taxation. We have enough with VAT in Europe. We need long term policies to change consumer behaviour.”

The current position

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the European Commission told FoodNavigator.com that there is no intention to harmonise taxes on foods, such as those high in fat or sugar, and therefore it will be left to member states to decide within existing EU rules.

The spokesperson said: “From a health point of view, it is clear that obesity is a major health problem.

“However, the Commission has no intention to promote an increased tax on some food products. The Commission discusses nutrition and health policy with EU Member States in the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity which leads to cooperation among Member States in these areas.”

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