Europe

The European Union Doesn't Need More Food Taxes

The World Health Organization ignores evidence price controls don't make people healthier.

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Credit: Skypixel | Dreamstime.com

In November 2012, a left-wing government in Denmark announced it would repeal a first-of-its-kind tax on high-fat foods that a right-wing government there had imposed. (Re-read that sentence. Let it sink in.)

As I wrote at the time, the so-called "fat tax" targeted "all foods containing more than 2.3 percent saturated fat, meaning it impacted not just potato chips but many popular foods considered by some to be healthy options—including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, avocados, chocolate, and nuts."

Along with repealing the country's so-called fat tax, the Danish government also announced it wouldn't move forward with the predecessor government's planned tax on sugar and sugary foods.

Why the reversal? The government repealed the tax and opted against imposing new ones for three primary reasons. First, the existing tax failed to raise money. Danes simply shopped elsewhere in Europe. Second, the tax cost jobs. Estimates put the number at more than 1,000 Danish jobs lost. Third, the tax failed to make Danes healthier.

In other words, the fat tax was an enormous failure by any and every measure. It would be difficult, seemingly, to design a dumber and more ineffective measure. That's why it's odd to see Denmark's fat tax front and center in a new World Health Organization report calling for still new food taxes in Europe.

The report, issued in Using Price Policies to Promote Healthier Diets, presents a new and equivocal view of Denmark's fat tax that betrays the WHO's ridiculous biases.

The fat tax wasn't a giant failure, the WHO claims. Rather, it "generated controversy in some circles where it was claimed that the tax was inefficient, ineffective and would generate unintended negative consequences."

It's true the fat tax "generated controversy in some circles where it was claimed" the tax was a failure.

"[B]arely a year after being implemented," one European free-market think tank report stated, "the tax was abolished because of the adverse effects it produced without any real impact on consumption habits."

But it also generated controversy in most circles, where reporters and experts painted it as as a failure—as reports in the Washington Post, The Economist, and The New York Times make clear.

Besides Denmark, the WHO report also looks at food taxes elsewhere in Europe. In each country the study highlights—along with Denmark, it looks at Hungary, Finland, and France—a key part of the purpose (sometimes the only purpose) of such taxes has been to raise government revenue. Hard data showing positive results are lacking. Not coincidentally, consumers and businesses opposed such taxes in each case.

Despite this opposition and the lack of evidence in favor of increased food taxes and the hard evidence against them—in the form of the failed Danish experiment—the report argues higher food taxes are not just "feasible" but a great idea.

"The economic theory presented at the beginning of this publication demonstrates that in circumstances where the consumption (or inadequate consumption) of food products is associated with a negative externality, pricing policies may be effective and efficient mechanisms to alter patterns of consumption," the WHO report concludes. "The available research evidence largely supports the economic theory in showing that changing the price of food can alter consumption in the desired direction."

The WHO authors appear to be targeting Poland as a possible trial location for trying out their economic theories. I hope they decide otherwise.

In a recent column, I used the failed Danish tax and other concrete examples to argue that socially engineering food choices doesn't work. That argument may generate controversy in some circles where it is claimed otherwise, like at the WHO. But outside of those offices, people refer to this as the truth.

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  1. This so-called “fat tax”, taxing so-called “saturated fat” in so-called “foodstuffs” consumed by so-called “danes”.

    Allegedly.

    1. If a government has just authority to impose sin taxes on beer and wine, which are agricultural products with less processing and addivation than that of a frozen dinner, it certainly has just authority to tax other undesirable foods and beverages.

      But, if the concern is obesity, why not just impose poll taxes based on body weight?

      Better yet, make income taxes progressively higher with BMI?

      Sure, that would be unpopular, but does anybody still think that Europe is really democratic, or that the EU gives a hoot about the consent of the governed?

      1. But, if the concern is obesity

        then they would be giving tax credits for fat loss instead of taxing foods.

        It’s still social engineering, and I hate it but only less so, and would actually work better if that’s really their goal.

        1. a key part of the purpose (sometimes the only purpose) of such taxes has been to raise government revenue.

          which is of course, the real purpose. WRT Denmark:
          https://reason.com/blog/2015/05…..-killing-c

          Unshockingly, Danes have become awfully good at doing things off the books, so that they don’t have to pay those taxes.

          http://www.taxationinfonews.co…..expanding/

          The sheer scale of potential tax evasion committed by Danes has led the Government to delay its upcoming tax amnesty program.

          1. They take lessons from the Italians and the Greeks.

        2. In the timeless words of Dean Wormer, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.” The ruling elite strongly agree with the first two items in Wormer’s admonition, though government prefers that people stay stupid.

          Some people value calorific cuisine more than a svelte body. Others like to train for marathons. Individuals have the natural right to make their own choices. It is tyrannical to use tax policy to enforce the aesthetic preferences of the ruling elite.

      2. addivation = fewer additives

      3. Can you imagine the weighing stns. on sidewalks, like the ones for trucks on roads?

      4. If a government has just authority to impose sin taxes?

        They might have legislated authority, but certainly just just authority.

        1. but certainly just not just authority.

          🙂

  2. the report argues higher food taxes are not just “feasible” but a great idea.

    I propose a tax on reports and Top.Men.

  3. If you can think of a better scheme for social engineering than taking people’s property and returning it only when they jump through the correct hoops, I’d like to hear it. Anyway, you’re talking about Europe. Let them fend for themselves. This is the American internet.

  4. Europe won’t be happy until beef is, say, 20 dollars a pound, I guess.

    1. 20 *pounds* a pound.

      (OK, 20 euros a pound, but that’s not as funny)

      1. Surely you mean “7.94 euros a kilo”.

        1. 20 kilometers per liter.

  5. The WHO authors appear to be targeting Poland as a possible trial location for trying out their economic theories.

    You know who else targeted Poland with their authoritarian schemes?

      1. Batu Khan?

    1. No one. No one else in history ever had Poland in their crosshairs.

      1. No one except for the Russians, Swedes, Germans, Turks and Mongols

    2. John Paul?

    3. Empress Maria Theresa?

  6. “… Danes simply shopped elsewhere …the tax cost jobs… the tax failed to make Danes healthier.”

    These three unforeseeable results were a reason to repeal the tax? Sounds like it worked just like most taxes do.

  7. @Fist;

    The problem is that the Progressives over here are (to use Tom Wolfe’s metaphor and phrase) “Sweaty Little Colonials” deeply anxious to do waterer is considered forward thinking among European Intellectuals. So one of the best ways to pull a Progressive trend up shot here is to demonstrate that the Europeans have already abandoned it, or that while it may be current there it is the bureaucrats and not the intellectuals who push for it, or?.. you get the idea, I’m sure.

    1. “Whatever” not ” waterer”. I really shouldn’t comment before I wake up in the morning, not that it helps all THAT much.

  8. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ?????? http://www.Jobs-Cash.com

  9. OT: My son went camping with the Boy Scouts this weekend. After he left, my wife told me that he had forgotten the forms required. Six fucking pages of bullshit. I asked my wife what they would do if they didn’t have the forms and she said they would call us and tell us to come get him. I asked if they couldn’t just get the forms when he got home. Her answer was “what if he got hurt?”

    I swear to fucking science that it is almost as if the forms can be applied as bandages or something. It isn’t like they actually do anything with the damn things. IF he had remembered to take them with him they would have sat in a folder somewhere. After which one assumes they get thrown away. Are forms magic? Does their signed existence produce something super-natural? The fact that people just lay down for such shit is truly a sign of a dying society.

    She asked me “what do you think we should do?” I told her we should do nothing. When they called and told us to come pick him up we just wouldn’t answer the phone. Of course, she insisted on squirming. She scanned and e-mailed the forms….somewhere. If they don’t have them at the campsite I assume that we can sue the BS for millions? My son’s safety is assured because those forms are magic.

    Just nuke the whole fucking planet from space. The human race is too stupid to live.

    1. Does their signed existence produce something super-natural?

      As a former Cubmaster, I can say “yes”; the creation of an impenetrable liability field that completely covers my ass.

      1. the creation of an impenetrable liability field that completely covers my ass.

        Except I am certain that it doesn’t, which makes it even worse. I could still sue if something happened, in spite of the stupid releases. I might not win, but such a suit would not be rejected out of hand.

        I certainly do not blame any of the scoutmasters for wanting to be shielded from liability. Camping can be dangerous.

        It also is not like they haven’t had us sign dozens of forms. Having the immunization form signed once should be enough but they want the same fucking form every time he goes somewhere!

        1. Well, I did say it was “super-natural,” i.e., it doesn’t exist. 🙂

        2. You need a scout master who was a Vietnam vet that had been captured and tortured by the Viet Cong like mine.

        3. I did the Scoutmaster thing. Hated the forms. Asshattery of the first order. BSA wants them because BSA is scared to death of lawyers.

          1. “BSA wants them because BSA is scared to death of lawyers.”

            As well they should be. I know of one case where the scoutmaster let the scout go without the form, the scout got seriously injured on the trip, and parents sued scoutmaster for about $2 million. Fortunately, scoutmaster had an umbrella liability policy that covered his loss, but the whole thing could have been averted by the waiver. Most of the $2 million went to hospitalization at rack rates. The scout’s parents had health insurance, but their insurer refused to cover the bill because they could put the liability on the scoutmaster.

            This is not a stupid policy in a nation with stupid liability laws.

            1. This is not a stupid policy in a nation with stupid liability laws.

              Not trying to point a finger at you, CTE, but the absolute victory of evil is inherent in this statement. If we all must do the dance, to protect ourselves from the dance, how does it ever end, or even improve? It doesn’t. Ever. Just more “not being stupid” as the stupid laws increase.

              Turning over Jews was not a stupid policy in Nazi Germany when they had stupid liability racial laws, it was still evil.

              1. Evil? Yes. Unfortunately what Cato brings up is not uncommon. When someone’s little snowflake gets hurt … the knives come out. Even if the snowflake is did something seriously stupid. I took 19 scouts on a rafting trip. 5 pieces of paper per scout. I could not believe the manila folder of shit I had to turn into the outfitter. They were responsible for three of the 5 pages. Lawyers need to be hunted for sport until all this CYA BS gets put back under control. When I was in the scouts back in the 70’s we only need to make a phone call, “Yes, it is OK for my son to go.” Done.

                1. Lawyers need to be hunted for sport and food until all this CYA BS gets put back under control.

                  And the boy scouts are not alone, not by a long shot. At one point a few months ago, my son needed a notarized permission slip to attend a sleep over organized and run by his CHURCH!

                  They were not swimming or doing anything remotely dangerous, but the church was concerned that some teens might forge their parents signatures!

              2. Maybe, but one person ignoring the forms is not going to stop the juggernaut, just get them ground under its wheels.

    2. Good lord. We never had forms and we were mildly insane with our knives, hatchets, and other assorted pointy objects.

      1. Seriously, we regularly had traumatic injuries (hatchet buried in calf one time) and no one ever sued.

        1. Besides which, how else are you going to get first aid training?

        2. Jesus, was your Totin’ Chip just a bag of confetti?

          1. Pretty much. No deaths fortunately, not for lack of trying.

          2. We put a kid in full blown shock one time with ghost stories combined with rubber masks and midnight terror raids.

    3. Here is my speculation: If the Scouts are hit by a multi-million-dollar judgment in a case where the parents didn’t sign the form and sued after some incident, then…well, it wouldn’t help scouting very much.

      1. For all they know, you might be Litigious Coffee Cop, looking for a reason to collect damages from any corporation that moves.

    4. I’ve run into this trying to bring one of my kid’s friends to a gym with us to play basketball. The front desk person would tell me that I need a note from the parents of the kid saying it is OK for me to bring him to the gym.

      Luckily the front desk morons are so apathetic/dumb that they never seem to notice that I just walk out to my car and write a note from their parents myself.

      But it is a sad commentary on our society.

      1. They’re not morons. All they care is that you told them it was from the parents.

        1. & nobody can prove they knew otherwise.

  10. You see, the reason the tax didn’t work wasn’t because it was stupid. It’s because it didn’t go far enough. You admit yourself, they just traveled elsewhere to buy their unhealthy food. That option needs to be removed. Impose the tax throughout the EU and you’ll see a much healthier population in no time. What could go wrong? [/sarcasm]

  11. For the progressive communist the government is never big enough and there are never enough taxes and regulations.

    If they could, they’d tax and regulate farts.

    1. Farting would be prohibited; infractions punishable by huge fines. With fart-detectors in all bedrooms. Big Brother is sniffing.

      1. With a tax exemption for progressives who enjoy smelling their own farts.

        1. So the shrieking imbecile would be totally exempt from taxation?

    2. Shhh…they might be reading this!

    3. Methane and water vapor are greenhouse gases…

      1. Need a bean tax.

  12. Among the most pernicious of all ideas is the persistent belief that one of government’s jobs is to try to make us “better.” Whether we like it or not.

  13. OT: Seriously, what happened to NO BOOTS ON THE GROUND ?

    http://goo.gl/P9CcnJ

  14. Here’s what happens if you use the Cleveland Browns as your pallbearers – they leave your coffin in the street.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05…..times&_r=0

    1. That picture shows a good reason not to pay 10K for a coffin if they are gonna fall apart like that one in such a short time.

      Just as well off in a pine box.

  15. Someone posted this in last night’s thread just before it died, and it really needs to be reposted. New Yorker writer cries because you won’t let him play with Chu Chu trains. Contains sentences like:

    The late Tony Judt, who was hardly anyone’s idea of a leftist softy, devoted much of his last, heroic work, written in conditions of near-impossible personal suffering, to the subject of ? trains: trains as symbols of the public good, trains as a triumph of the liberal imagination, trains as the “symbol and symptom of modernity,” and modernity at its best. “The railways were the necessary and natural accompaniment to the emergence of civil society,” he wrote.

    I’ve read Tony Judt. He is obviously a leftist and anyone who knows anything about Tony Judt would know he’s a leftist.

    Secondly, the quote he chose to use doesn’t explain why we need more trains today. The fact that trains WERE an incredibly important advancement isn’t being questioned. What’s being questioned is the logic of creating even more train lines that the government would have to subsidize because none of them would make money.

    A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination.

    This sentence is worse than super-AIDS.

    1. “Even Karl Marx supports a proletarian revolution!”

    2. The train mania is deeply ingrained. I think it has something to do with their dim awareness that, in promoting the creation of the post-civil war railroad new, the Government has one of it’s real successes. And they can’t very well embrace the success that superseded it, because the National Highway System encourages individual destinations, which are anathema.

      1. There is no commuter rail system in the world that is profitable, all require government subsidies. That’s a true fact.

        Why would we invest in dated, unprofitable technology? Never mind, I know the answer. Self driving cars are supposedly nearly here.

        1. It’s a way of making choices for the people, so by definition it is right and proper. And it’s Gaia’s vibrator.

        2. We’ve got Lon Musk’s tube to look forward to.

          It can never crash just like the Titanic.

      2. “I think it has something to do with their dim awareness that, in promoting the creation of the post-civil war railroad new, the Government has one of it’s real successes”

        It’s also a union hiring hall on wheels; union votes paid for by the taxpayers.

      3. I think mostly it has to do w Lionel, etc. Ever notice how predominantly male the interest in trains is? Slot cars were never as popular as toy trains, even though the latter were more expensive.

    3. I fully support building more train lines. . . . but only if the rails are made of reardon metal.

  16. The New Republic uncovers a scandal:

    “House Republicans Aim to Cut Amtrak Funding the Day After Philadelphia Derailment”

    http://www.newrepublic.com/art…..ign=buffer

  17. C’mon, youse guys! Nothing on our fave luddite subject?

    “USDA develops first government label for GMO-free products”
    […]
    “Certification would be voluntary – and companies would have to pay for it.”
    http://www.foxnews.com/health/…..-products/

    Wonder how many luddites will find that acceptable…

  18. The tax was also controversial because of the unsettled science surrounding nutrition and saturated fats. Turns out, it’s actually good for you, so the Danes were trying to discourage consumption via tax of a vital nutrient. A nutrient that’s probably helpful in reducing obesity.

    Typical government, typical politicized science – fuck-ups everyone of them.

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  20. Meanwhile the trend in the USA has been against food taxes. NY abolished its sales tax on food groceries decades ago, & I don’t think it was the only state to do so.

  21. Internet wyze gais.

  22. In November 2012, a left-wing government in Denmark announced it would repeal a first-of-its-kind tax on high-fat foods that a right-wing government there had imposed. (Re-read that sentence. Let it sink in.)

    Let me translate that for you:

    In November 2012, a communist-leaning progressive government in Denmark announced it would repeal a first-of-its-kind tax on high-fat foods that a fascist-leaning progressive government there had imposed.

    I hope that clears up any confusion.

    1. Got it! I think.

  23. “Why the reversal? The government repealed the tax and opted against imposing new ones for three primary reasons. First, the existing tax failed to raise money. Danes simply shopped elsewhere in Europe. Second, the tax cost jobs. Estimates put the number at more than 1,000 Danish jobs lost. Third, the tax failed to make Danes healthier.”

    So increasing the price of eggs, salmon, and whole milk and in the process increasing demand for carb-heavy foods didn’t make citizens healthier? Odd.

    But even an outright ban on exclusively unhealthy foods would be unlikely to have a positive impact on public health when you consider that people would just resort to black markets, which would eventually develop into organized crime.

    And as much as I would love for Denmark to be the first state to create a chocolate mafia for public health reasons, California called dibs long ago.

  24. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ?????? http://www.Jobs-Cash.com

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  26. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ?????? http://www.Jobs-Cash.com

  27. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ?????? http://www.netcash9.com

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