Ever since Marie Antoinette was falsely associated with the quote “let them eat cake” at a time when bread was more on people’ s minds, governments have been pushing food decisions one way and then another.
The latest to enter this fray is Denmark, the lean and happy Scandinavian country. It has imposed a 2.3 percent saturated fat tax that is being called the world’s first true “fat tax.”
It’s also being called the “butter and burgers” tax. Each kilogram of saturated fax will add 16 Danish kroners to the cost of the food involved, which translates into about 40 cents for a small package of butter and about 15 cents for a burger.
Denmark might seem an unlikely place for the world’s first fat tax. Its Scandinavian population runs about 90 percent toward the lean side and Danes are a happy people, according to recent surveys.
While Danes are said to be fond of butter, the country’s low, 10 percent obesity rate is already the envy of Europe. Still the Karolinska Institute says obesity and overweight people cost Denmark $2.9 billion a year.
But the new tax has already come under attack from the country’s food industry. They say they way it is applied will cost Denmark’s businesses an extra $28 million in the first year and put them at an unfair advantage with other European Union (EU) countries.
The unsaturated fat tax is applied on the amount used in the process of making food, not in how much is actually in the product ready for the consumer.
Denmark already has extra taxes on sugar, chocolates and soda pop. Danish Health Minister Jacob Axel Nielsen credits fees on sugar, fat and tobacco with the country’s rising life expectancy, which is now 79 years old.
For their part, Danes raided grocery shelves before the new tax went into effect on Saturday, with reports that frozen pizza and dairy products were in short supply.
Meanwhile, Finland, Ireland and Romania are among EU countries that may next adopt fat taxes. However, a Belgian lawmaker said fat taxes would not change consumer eating habits, but “only fill the treasury.”
Many foods in Europe are already taxed through the Value Added Tax (VAT). Taxes on food are among the most regressive in that they apply to commodities that must be purchased by low-income households.