Denmark introduces the world’s first “fat tax” on foods with saturated fats

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.

Photo from "Primal Body, Primal Mind" blog. Click image to go there.

From BBC News Europe:

“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….”

Read it all on BBC News Europe.

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:

From Evelyn J. Kim on Civil Eats:

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….”

Read it all on Civil Eats.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Denmark introduces the world’s first “fat tax” on foods with saturated fats

  1. Annie Bartley

    It changes nothing, its just another way to make their money…

  2. Renee

    If they really were truly concerned about their citizens health, I think that tax on trans fat and sugar would have a better affect. However, these are decisions that we should be allowed to make on our own, without the government trying to protect us from ourselves.

    “If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” ~Thomas Jefferson

    • Walter's Dad

      On a bit of a tangent here, but it never ceases to amaze me how frequently this misquote shows up. Pretty sure someone commented fairly recently on this blog regarding this same quote.
      “Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now” is the correct quote, and few would even recognize it.
      The internet probably is a big part of why misinformation seems to eventually bury the truth. People can post whatever they like and don’t have to back it up – and if enough people repost it, it eventually appears like “fact” to the masses. No offence intended towards you Renee – your version shows up on all the google searches and quote sites, so one couldn’t blame you for assuming it was correct.
      Just seems that it’s getting harder and harder for us to discern fact from fiction.

  3. Denmark has become an utterly ridiculous place… It’s no longer merely the ancestral home of the proud Vikings who pulled down London Bridge and gave us the nursery rhythm “London Bridge is Falling Down”. Now Denmark is the home of the ultimate nanny state: the one in which your every food choice is intimately controlled.

    These types of nanny-state laws only make sense in the context of public health. Lacking that context, I like to think that Danes would understand that they are living in a tyrannical state. An immoral tyrannical state.

    Basically, the Danish gov is taxing Danes into becoming unhealthy high-carb fatsos with elevated BP and cholesterol. Oh, and ironically, Danes will be at a higher risk for depression and suicide. And information on this topic is not difficult to find. Just do a bit of research on ancestral diets, hunter-gatherer diets, paleo diets, or primal diets. Denmark’s politicians are out-of-touch with the health community and current science, so where does their moral authority to legislate on this matter originate? Good question.

    I guess a lesson in this for those of us living in freer countries has to do with the dangers of a government trying to legislate science: i.e. making freedom-restricting legislation on the basis of incomplete, flawed, and politically motivated scientific data. Canada certainly has similar problems. And in all such circumstances, there seems to be a whiff of corruption.

  4. Hey I’d volunteer to pay a tax on raw milk if the government would stand back and let me kill myself with it. Just sayin’.

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