The paper says that food taxes are discriminatory in that they target certain food products and ingredients and not others, which may have similar nutritional content. It says that such taxes endanger the competitiveness of the EU food industry, and sidestep larger issues in obesity prevention. In addition, it claims that scientific evidence is inconclusive about whether food taxes are effective in changing consumer behaviour and whether they have an impact on reducing obesity rates.
FoodDrinkEurope director general Mella Frewen said that the joint statement demonstrates that the industry is strongly in agreement that taxes are not the solution to fight obesity and non-communicable diseases.
“A more coherent approach is needed, with each actor playing his part, to help create positive behavioural change in consumer habits,” Frewen said.
The position paper comes just weeks after Denmark – one of the strongest advocates of food taxes – announced that it would scrap a decades-old soft drink tax in an effort to boost its economy. Six months ago, Denmark also eliminated a tax on saturated fat, just a year after it was introduced.
The timing of the paper is surprising in relation to such high-profile moves away from food taxes, said food regulation expert Alberto Alemanno, associate professor of law at HEC Paris. However, he added that this might also go some way toward explaining the paper’s timing, as the EU is in the process of examining what it can do to fight obesity.
“The message the food industry is sending out with this declaration is not only an obvious rejection of fat taxes but the future emergence of an EU anti-obesity policy based on command and control tools,” he said – a position underlined by industry’s call for a holistic approach.
Instead of taxes, the joint statement called on governments to encourage positive behavioural changes through initiatives that promote nutrition education, incentivise reformulation, improve nutrition information, and address socioeconomic barriers to healthy diets and lifestyles.