Ethical aspects of fat: should the UK implement a fat tax?
Should we tax fatty foods in the UK?
In 2011, the Danish government introduced a fat tax as part of a new strategy to change behaviour and reduce lifestyle-related illnesses such as obesity, cancer and heart disease.
All products containing more than 2.3 g of saturated fat were taxed based on the levels of saturated fat they contained. Sugary foods and soft drinks were also taxed.
In response, some people decided to buy Danish food products in neighbouring Germany, where they were cheaper despite being imported. It is estimated that in 2012 Danish consumers paid an extra €170 million in fat taxes, but without any obvious impact on their fat consumption or health. By the end of 2012, the fat tax had been abolished.
In the UK, public health bodies are still campaigning for taxes on fat, sugar and salt similar to those abolished in Denmark. In 2015, for example, Public Health England published a report that suggested, among other measures, a tax on high-sugar foods.
In March 2016, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a sugar tax set to start in 2018. It would target fizzy drinks, not pure fruit juice or milk-based drinks. It is thought that it would raise up to £520 million a year, something the Chancellor says will be used to increase funding for sport in primary schools.
|Pros of a fat tax||Cons of a fat tax|
|Potential to reduce saturated fat intake in a country where a quarter of people are classified as obese.||Administrative and economic burdens on food industry including small businesses.|
|In the UK there is less opportunity to travel to other countries to shop for fatty foods.||No proven impact on eating habits or health.|
‘Big Picture: Fat’ (2015) CC BY
- Institut Economique Molinari report on the costs of Denmark’s fat tax
- CNN: FDA orders food manufacturers to stop using trans fat within three years
- Financial penalties on foods: the fat tax in Denmark (2012)
- Institute of Economic Affairs: Denmark’s fat tax disaster – the proof of the pudding
- NHS Choices: Britain – ‘the fat man of Europe’
Questions for discussion
- Can you think of other pros and cons for a fat tax?
- How well do you think a fat tax would work in the UK?
- If you had to choose one tax to introduce, would you pick a fat tax or a sugar tax? Why?