Something is rotten in Denmark: New food tax

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In an article for The New York Times, columnist Mark Bittman lauds the Danish government for its most recent implementation: an excise tax on foods high in saturated fat. At a rate of slightly under $3 per kilogram of saturated fat content, the new regulation means that a half-pound of butter will now cost 15 cents more. But with a national obesity rate of only 9 percent one of the lowest in Europe why are the Danes so focused on curbing consumption of saturated fat? Well, the answer is they re not. In fact, even Bittman points out that the primary reason for the new tax is to help the struggling Danish government find a new source of revenue.

And as ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava observes, At least the Danish government makes no bones about improving health or fighting obesity via this tax. This isn t about improving public health. The new tax is simply about raising revenue.

Only after first citing these fiscal motives does Bittman go on to claim that the Danes actually don t mind paying these sorts of excise taxes, as long as they serve a good purpose which, in this instance, he says, they will do, by supporting health, education, and other benefits for a healthier lifestyle.

But as ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross points out, Taxing foods high in saturated fat has nothing to do with fostering a healthier lifestyle, since saturated fats are no different from other fats in terms of calorie count. In fact, lower consumption of saturated fats is only barely, if at all, related to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

And why attack just saturated fats? Even Bittman concedes that empty carbohydrates found in sugars and white bread are equally to blame for obesity. This tax makes about as much sense as the soda tax proposed here in the States: absolutely none, concludes Dr. Whelan.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom wonders why Denmark is limiting the tax to food items. Since this is just another way of picking taxpayers pockets, why not impose the tax on duct tape, shoe laces, and pinochle cards? It s just as logical.