EU forum flags up complexity of measuring impact of fat taxes on health

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trans fats Nutrition

The complexity of measuring the impact of food taxes on health and a call for a reduction in taxes on healthier food groups was raised at the recent plenary session of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

The Chair of the plenary session, Despina Spanou, in reporting the outcome of the 2 February meeting of the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity, said member states agreed pricing initiatives could not be sufficient on their own to counter obesity trends and urged the focus of future exchanges to be on the development monitoring tools to gauge impacts of such levies.

Food and beverage taxes, which have garnered much attention of late, are currently not subject to specific harmonized EU legislative provisions.

Platform member, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), claims the impact of fiscal measures applied to food policy can be significant when combined with health promotion measures designed to increase awareness of the health issues associated with a poor diet.

Polish ‘back-track’ slammed

In a recent open letter to the Polish government, the EPHA expressed its disappointment the ministries of health and agriculture and rural development ‘back-tracked”​ on a proposal to increase the current value added tax (VAT) there from 8 to 23% on a series of “unhealthy”​ products.

The Polish parliament has “therefore missed the opportunity to have an impact on growing chronic diet-related diseases and obesity levels,”​ said the letter from the alliance.

The EPHA is urging the Polish government to “reconsider its initiative and​take it forward as the governments of Denmark, Hungary and recently France have done."

And the alliance argues that, i​n times of austerity, food taxation offers goverments a two-pronged arrow to deal effectively with two pertinent issues -the obesity epidemic and the ongoing economic crisis - in one.

Saturated fat benchmarking

Meanwhile, Spanou also informed the Plenary that the Commission is working towards proposing an annex to the common framework for the reduction of selected nutrients to address saturated fat including possible reduction benchmarks for the next platform meeting in June.

And, Angelika Mrohs, managing director of the German Federation for Food Law and Food Sciences, also updated the plenary on a joint government and food industry initiative in that country focused on how to reduced industrial trans fats in food.

She said that a possible guideline of a maximum of 2% trans fats target definition may be agreed by stakeholders for some food products early this year.

Re-educating consumers

Meanwhile, Christina Drotz, Nestlé public affairs, told Platform members about the Swiss food group’s efforts to implement a stepwise reduction of the salt content of its ranges over several years, gradually “re-educating consumers’ taste buds​.”

And she informed the plenary that Nestlé is now removing trans fats in products from its recently acquired food businesses as well as its pledge to further cut sodium levels in its soups, recipe mixes and pizza lines by an average of 10% over the next three years.

Drotz also outlined how the food giant is looking at introducing child appropriate Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) on the labelling of products targeted at that segment.

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