Opinion: A tax on the greedy … and I’m not talking about the 1%
A tax, a tax I say! This has been a cry in Parliament within the past few months, and now it seems that tasty treats are on the government’s big list of things to area bomb with extra charges. Since a recent statement, claiming that by 2030 about half of us will be fully fledged fatties, struggling to breathe through lungs encased in a coat of blubber far better suited to a marine mammal, then perhaps it’s about time. A burger embargo could be just the thing the nation needs to stop our island from sinking into a sea of lard. Or is it?
As far back as 2004, there were Parliamentary bleatings to bring in such a thing, in the belief that it will banish obesity forever. Of course, there wasn’t a recession on then, and it would not have been such a big deal for the majority to give up a little extra from their earnings in order to obtain such sinful food.
But, tax or no tax, people are still going to go out and satisfy their cravings by bulk buying chocolate oranges. Evolution has hard-wired gluttony into our genetics after all, and that cannot be altered by the threat of financial loss. Considering the current threat of a double-dip recession, it doesn’t seem out of place to say that such an idea cannot come at a worse possible time.
The general notion is well meaning. All the extra money that is inevitably raised will go towards the nation’s struggling healthcare, which should in turn help deal with the overwhelming crowds of obese Britons clogging the corridors of NHS hospitals like so many cholesterol laden arteries. But will it actually work, or is this farcical fudge made from the milk of your wages?
A couple of case studies from elsewhere in the EU, where these taxes have already been implemented, are enlightening. Denmark adopted it since the 1st October on any foods which have a saturated fat content greater than 2.3%. But then, the Danes have also been taxing sweets for almost 90 years. So such a concept is probably taken in their stride.
On the other hand, it makes little sense, seeing as unsaturated fat and other health harming nutritional values such as excess sugar and salt remain unaffected. In fact, seeing as butter, cheese and bacon are major Danish exports, it seems their government didn’t think this through at all. It might very well limit their intake, but then there is a danger it could also limit production. Currently there are 40% fewer obese Danes than obese Brits, but their numbers have continued to rise over the years regardless. It appears they like to hoard treats as much as the rest of us.
In aptly-named Hungary, a nation famous for its fatty cuisine, a similar tax on high levels of sugar, salt and carbohydrates has been in place since 1st September. Any of its citizens wishing to enjoy a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar can be expected to pay a surcharge for the privilege. Curiously, fast food restaurants and traditional dishes like the Dobos Torte, a dessert consisting of five layers of sponge cake, chocolate butter cream and a caramel topping, have escaped taxation.
So, one might be paying monster prices for Monster Munch, but at least deep fried goose lard won’t burn a hole in your pocket. I find it difficult to believe that Hungary will see any positive changes from this. The average Hungarian, who is no stranger to smoking and a diet rich in fatty, salty pork, will likely continue to contribute to the country’s health issues.
With Hungary and Denmark leading the way, more European countries seem set to follow. Finland, which already taxes sugared products, have expressed an interest in broadening it to cover saturated fats. We might very well be on the verge of a gastronomical domino effect. And, seeing as Britain’s obesity rate is at 24.5 percent, while Hungary’s is at a meagre 18.8 percent, perhaps the nation’s over-indulgers would be wise to seek out a Costco card.
Referring back to the general economic atmosphere, consider this: families are already suffering from higher food prices, and the honest truth is that it is far easier to hand over 99p for a McMeat-wich, than stand in supermarket aisles for hours, painstakingly sifting through all the greens, and things that are classed as green but are in fact not green, to ensure they are free of all insidious elements.
Not everyone can afford products emblazoned with the organic logo, and it’s not like there are many alternatives readily available. Even processed fruit is subject to VAT, so perhaps a better solution would be for the government to forget their love of using taxes to try and solve a problem and just cut them instead. But for now, can you really blame people for bypassing a 100ml bottle of elderberry juice at £4.59 a pop, when there is a well stocked row of own brand lemonade next to it, at 28p each?
If additional money needs to be raised that badly, then they might as well go all out: perhaps deep fat fryers could require a license, with special license agreements to go with them. They could feature warning labels similar to the ones found on parachutes: “Use of this equipment could result in obesity and greasy skin.” Perhaps that’ll deter the Scots from coating everything in golden crispiness… It might also stop people popping down to Argos and wasting their money on an impulse buy. That DeLonghi won’t make you any more friends unless they especially love burnt potato slices, and you’ll end up never using it anyway.
Of course, I am not being serious, but it does seem like a better idea than punishing all the moderate eaters in the UK for the actions of their more spherical countrymen.
However, there does remain a single ray of hope. It shines out from Romania, a nation where the average citizen spends 40 percent of their income on their food bill. Having weighed the pros and cons, its government scrapped the idea on the basis that it was too risky, and that the poor were under enough financial pressure already. Hopefully Britain’s government will also see this logic.