As the prospect of a fat tax on unhealthy food is raised once more, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has spoken out on behalf of the industry against calls for a tax on chocolate.
Scottish GP, food scientist and nutritionist, Dr David Walker has spoken out to say chocolate should be taxed in the same way as alcohol and cigarettes as it was a “major player” in the increasing levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
He plans to put his proposals to the British Medical Association (BMA) at a conference in Clydebank.
But Julian Hunt, FDF director of communications, said that introducing regressive taxes would only result in lighter wallets, not smaller waists, particularly because VAT is already paid on all chocolate purchases in the UK.
Dr Walker admitted to the BBC news website: "The idea of a tax on fatty foods has been raised before and it was seen as unworkable. But I think a special case should be made for chocolate.
"It has lost its status as a 'special treat' and I think that if we charged a tax on it then, over a number of years, we could restore that status."
However, Hunt said: “There is no evidence to suggest that such ‘fat taxes’ would actually work in reality.
“When the BMA debated a similar motion in 2003 its members voted against such an idea on the grounds that such a taxation policy would have no effect on obesity, would hit lower income groups hardest and would be a bureaucratic nightmare.”
FoodNavigator.com contacted a number of leading chocolate makers but they were unable to comment ahead of publication. However, Cadbury said comments were being made by the FDF on behalf of the chocolate industry.
Meanwhile there is already a market for “healthy chocolate”. For example, in 2007 Barry Callebaut launched Acticoa, a cocoa powder high in cocoa flavanols that can reportedly boost cardiovascular health and, more recently, it introduced probiotic chocolate for gut health and tooth-friendly chocolate.
Its Acticoa dark chocolate was also the focus of a study by Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, which suggested that the eating 17g portions of it a day for two weeks helped to maintain healthy blood pressure.
A Which? report released yesterday, called “Hungry for Change”, also suggested tax reductions to lower the price of healthier foods and tax increases for foods high in fat, sugar or salt.
It said around a quarter of the UK population is now obese and almost 60 per cent of the population is predicted to be obese by 2050.
The report highlighted research from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that said the use of taxation, such as ‘fat taxes’ based on the amount of fat used in a product, would be regressive, costing those on lower incomes more.
However, researchers at Oxford University claimed that by charging VAT on foods deemed as ‘less healthy’, you could produce modest but meaningful changes in food consumption and a reduction in heart disease.
Calls for a ‘fat tax’ elsewhere also gathered momentum last summer when the French tax and social affairs inspectorates submitted a report calling for the VAT sales tax rate to be raised on sweet and fatty foods, sodas and alcohol to tackle obesity.