Lots of us know that fats are not all bad. In fact the right kind of fats are absolutely essential for health. Thus this Danish idea of taxing fat as if it was all bad for you is clearly wrongheaded on at least two counts, the second being the presumption that the nanny state knows better — they don’t — and is therefore somehow justified in telling people what to eat.
“Denmark has introduced what is believed to be the world’s first fat tax – a surcharge on foods that are high in saturated fat.
Butter, milk, cheese, pizza, meat, oil and processed food are now subject to the tax if they contain more than 2.3% saturated fat.
Some consumers began hoarding to beat the price rise, while some producers call the tax a bureaucratic nightmare.
Others suggest that many Danes will simply start shopping abroad.
Danish officials say they hope the new tax will help limit the population’s intake of fatty foods….”
In a photo caption accompanying the above story, the BBC notes that “Some scientists think saturated fat may be the wrong target”
And now for another perspective on the situation:
Recently, I went to a local grocery store in Copenhagen, Denmark, where I live, to pick up ingredients for my daughter’s birthday cake. One problem: There was no butter to be found.
On October 1, there was a new tax, a fat tax specifically on saturated fat. Leading up to this date, as if someone had announced the Fatpocalypse, the grocery was filled with long lines and no goods. Except for a few forlorn cartons of skim milk, fat-free yogurt, and a lone package of margarine, dairy, meat, and frozen food cases were empty.
To many familiar with Danish butter or bacon, this seems like a bad joke. For years the Danes were renowned for their dairy and pork products; so much so that German soldiers stationed in occupied Denmark during World War II called it the “whipped cream” front. Denmark, blessed with rich, alluvial soil, basically supplied Germany’s front lines in WWII without having to starve their own country first.
Denmark is not starving now either. It is the first country in the world to institute a “fat” tax (following a previously instituted sugar tax) of 2.3 percent. In real money this adds 16 Danish Kroners per kilogram of saturated fat (about $1.32 per pound of saturated fat). Thus, for a pound of butter, the tax amounts to be about an extra dollar; for a burger, the amount would be about an extra $.15 at the till. And that Danish? It will cost an extra 10 cents.
In passing the law, the Danish Parliament, then a center-right government, had 90 percent of the votes. This is in great contrast to American conservative parties that have made a concerted effort to block any and all efforts to incentivize healthy eating. And even with huge opposition from big food lobbyists and industry organizations, such as the Danish Meat Processors’ Association and Danish Business, the law flew through Parliament.
After passing the law, the tax minister at the time, Troels Lund Poulsen, said, the tax will not prevent anyone from eating well: “It will still be possible to make a healthy lunch [for] the kids without paying the fat tax, if, for example, [parents] make a lunchbox with fish cuts, eggs, turkey slices, tomatoes, and fruit.”
Beyond the weekend hoarding, the tax has been accepted by the population with relatively little grumbling (and this is a country that already has a VAT of 25 percent on all goods, including foodstuffs). Furthermore, as Denmark has an obesity rate of 10 percent (compared to 33.8 percent in the U.S.), one could question the need for such a tax.
To many Americans this seems unbelievable. While several food writers, such as Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, have suggested a tax on unhealthy foods, everyone from the agribusiness, to Big Food (and their lobbyists) to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have opposed the idea. The most common excuse is that taxes will not teach Americans how to eat healthier and it is not government’s responsibility to tell us how to eat–that is up to parents and individuals.
Another excuse says such a tax would hit poor families the hardest. Repeatedly groups such as Americans Again Food Taxes (funded by Coke, Pepsi, Jack-in-the Box, and other big food companies) have run ads on television and newspapers lamenting how another food tax would undermine fragile household economies.
But the worst catcall is that of the “Food Nazi” or “Food Police.” Glenn Beck, conservative pundit, probablysummed it up best for this group: “Get away from my French fries, Mrs. Obama!…First politician that comes up to me with a carrot stick, I’ve got a place for it. And it’s not in my tummy.” For many in the Republican Party, the Cato Institute and the Tea Party, any food tax would basically be akin to taking away our right to die of heart attacks.
In Denmark, food lobbies said the same thing, and yet nobody was fooled by the ridiculously self-serving logic of Big Food and its allies. But to really understand the difference between Denmark and the U.S. when it comes to a fat tax, there is really only one word: Money….”