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Fat-tax ahead

The nanny state is invited to strike again. The British Medical Association (BMA) is proposing a 17.5 percent VAT on high-fat foods like biscuits and processed meats to solve obesity-related problems, which cost the NHS roughly 500 million pounds a year. BMA spokesman Dr Martin Breach informs us:

There is an epidemic of obesity in the UK. You are what you eat and if that is the case the British public have a huge problem. Charging VAT on saturated foods found in processed meat products like sausages, pies and pastries, butter and cream, may help save some lives.

According to government statistics, one in five men and one in four women is obese. Obesity is a serious risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, muscle and respiratory problems and certain types of cancer.

One of the opposing arguments is that a punitive ‘tax’ on fatty foods would in fact work as a regressive tax since those on lower incomes generally tend to eat larger quantities of cheap, high-fat food.

Belinda Linden of the British Heart Foundation has the solution:

We need to educate people about the benefits of eating healthy foods and make them more responsible for their health. We also have to be sure that a ‘fat tax’ does not just end up penalising the poor without actually changing eating habits.

That’s right. Change their eating habits, educate the masses! Be a nanny to the whole nation!

But the BMA has even a better answer. They say that the tax would hit food manufacturers hard and have little effect on the poor.

A fat-tax will remove food manufacturers’ incentive to pump food full of fat. Instead they will fill processed foods with healthier ingredients and better selections of meat. Fat is a cheap by-product of the meat processing industry – they have mountains of the stuff and are desperate to use it, so they use it as cheap padding in foodstuffs.

Yes, let’s fool around with the markets, the food manufacturers, supply and demand. That always works! And it is much more fun that finding out what really makes people fat!

They are assuming that their medical conclusions are absolutely right when it come to understanding the way human body processes fat and what its fat consumption ought to be. They are not taking into account results of recent research that more or less vindicated the (in)famous Atkins diet that sees higher consumption of unsaturated fats as positive and desirable. No, they are going to tax fat in one big lump regardless of whether there is any scientific rationale other then three decade of their stale dogma. Atkins may not be absolutely right either, who knows, but rather than finding out, let’s mess with the markets, prices and taxes to teach people that they are not allowed to eat what they want.

Ah, but they need to be treated for serious and expensive ailments resulting from their over-indulgence on the National Health Service and at taxpayers’ expense. Fine, denationalise the health service and let people carry the responsibility for their actions.

Soon there will be a tax on dangerous sports (serious injuries), driving, cycling or walking in towns (high accident rates), watching TV (makes you fat and stupid), and breathing in London (likely to get asthma and allergies).

This is the world in which the Big Brother marries the Nanny.

19 comments to Fat-tax ahead

  • Sure, it makes more sense to prevent a problem that having to cure the consequences. Easy solution is to just stop curing the consequences, allow a massive die-off due to budgetary prioritization, and let people make a choice of stop the long-term bad behavior or risk not having their life saved at the last moment. Yeah, right.

  • Belinda Linden? You didn’t make that name up? Wow. She could mount a good lawsuit against her parents for that.

    Seriously, though, Laurence (above) makes the case for coercive dietary control appropriate to a nationalized-medical-care country. If America goes any further down that road — and don’t kid yourself, fellow Yanks; ALL third-party payment systems, including Medicare, Medicaid, and pervasive private insurance, squint toward socialized medicine, albeit along different paths — we’ll get lobbying for that sort of legislation on the West shore of the Puddle as well.

  • TomD

    “Seriously, though, Laurence (above) makes the case for coercive dietary control appropriate to a nationalized-medical-care country.”

    A restatement of the above is that since the government has forced the nation into national heath care, it is logical to extent the coercion to dietary habits. God only knows the logical conclusion of that chain.

    If the logical conclusion that necessarily follows given the original premise (national health care) is abhorent, one would have to conclude that the original premise was faulty.

  • T. Hartin

    Once you let the government camel’s nose under the tent with any kind of payments for health care, the road to this kind of nannying is steep and slippery. The need to control the burden on taxpayers represented by government benefit programs is being used to justify all kinds of nannying here in the US, including mandatory helmet and seatbelt laws, antismoking laws, and the like.

    You see, your health isn’t really your business anymore if the rest of us have to pick up the tab.

  • jk

    I am an Atkins disciple and am very worried that the lawsuits in the US will force fast food and manufacturers to adopt low-fat regimens that don’t work.

    The market is for ideas as well as money. When something works, it has a chance to gain favor — unless the gub’mint steps in.

    We have a moderately viable candidate, former Speaker Dick Gephardt, campaigning on a platform to rescind tax cuts to finance national health care. Then we can justify the fat tax — I tremble some days…

  • Can we have a tax credit instead? I’m gonna snort cocaine off supermodels skeletal bodies – and lose wait. I want a deduction.

  • Richard A. Heddleson

    Who’s paying the piper?

  • KC

    What about taxing those who stand outside in the winter without a coat on? I mean, they could get sick!

  • D2D

    Or just continue down the road of socialism with omnipresent government control and sooner or later everyone will be on the North Korean diet. Problem solved.

  • Tony H

    Most comments above are about government, and rightly point out the dread tendency toward state interference in our diet; but the post centred on a statement from the BMA, which is not an arm of government. In recent years this body, like its US counterpart, has tended to indulge itself ever more freely in conceited pronouncements upon things that are none of its business – like gun “control”. Though US medical bodies have offered a lot of gratuitous suggestions about the alleged social harm caused by law-abiding citizens owning guns, I’m damn sure the BMA has said similar things.
    Even friends of mine who are doctors agree that the BMA talks a lot of crap…

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Taxation of this sort, as well as being objectionable on libertarian grounds anyway, is also deeply regressive. Poorer people tend to eat ready-made, convenience foods of the sort targetted by such zealots, while wealthier folk can afford to go out and spend hours buying organic stuff and then cook it or have someone cook it for them.

    As usual, the Nanny State shafts the ordinary guy and leaves the broccoli-eating upper classes to feel good about themselves.

    Of course in a truly liberal society with no Soviet-style health system as the NHS, people would be incentivised to improve their health through market forces – ie, insurance premiums. Private health insurers would offer cheaper rates to folk who were willing to go to a gym, take more excercie, cut down on unhealthy food, etc.

    As the late Tory MP Nick Budgen once remarked about New Labour, instead of nationalising things, Labour will nationalise people.

  • Liberty Belle

    So this punitive tax on manufacturers for producing food that people want to buy will not affect the poor, who tend to eat fattier foods? The manufacturers, bless ’em!, won’t be passing the tax on in higher prices to the consumer? The government’s going to intervene, perhaps? OR, a fat tax will serve as a disincentive for manufacturers to pump food full of fat and instead “fill processed foods with healthier ingredients and better selections of meat”. For … uh, the same price? Healthier ingredients and better selections of meat won’t cost more? I don’t think I’m understanding this argument.

    In addition, these health fascists’ definitions of “obese” have devalued the meaning of the word. In the glorious world of New Labour/New Fascism, it means a few pounds overweight (I think it’s 10% over what New Labour/New Fascist thinks you should weigh. So if your normal weight “should” be 100lbs and you weight 110, you are “obese) not, as most of us who speak English take it to mean, grossly overweight.

    So, if “obese” by their definition is a few pounds overweight, then all these teenage girls who develop anorexia trying to get a few pounds off their weight are … doing the right thing? Tessa Jowell or whatever her name is tried to strong arm the big cats, otherwise known as fashion editors, to use “normal” women as models, if memory serves. But “normal” by New Labour definition, would be “obese” and it would be little short of criminal to promote “obese women” in fashion mags which influence young women and girls. I would have thought … Didn’t work of course, because the big cats ate Tessa Jowell for lunch.

  • G Cooper

    The point about Atkins and the instability of ‘expert opinion’ opinion on any subject under the sun having been made, there is another aspect to this.

    For the first half of the 20th century, the medical profession was able to pull miracles out of its top hat with impressive regularity. Since 1950, the rate of progress has slowed, to the point that very little of the ‘Oh, my God, Margaret I’ve discovered the cure for housemaid’s knee!’ variety appears these days.

    Like any priesthood losing its grip, the doctors have cast around looking for more juju to impress the gawping supplicants and, as their old gods no longer seem quite so ready to please, have invented the notion of ‘patient responsibility’.

    Two further thoughts: First, will they also accept a tax on all sporting activity? The A&E department of any hospital on a Saturday evening will provide all the evidence anyone needs of the costs to the NHS of sport. Second, will they accept personal liability for giving us incorrect treatment and opinions based on what was the prevailing fashion when they were at medical school umpteen years ago?

    No. I thought not…

  • Andrew Duffin

    “For the first half of the 20th century, the medical profession was able to pull miracles out of its top hat with impressive regularity”

    Or maybe what you mean is the pharmaceutical industry was able to do that.

    Surgeons are wonderfully skilled and do some amazing things, but take away their contribution and that of antibiotics and all their variants, and what are you left with?

    Cancer – no change; genetic defects – no change; most diseases of ageing – no change…

    You see my point I hope.

    There will be fewer parma breakthroughs now – in fact, more or less none, as we see at present – due to the regulatory framework plus the near-impossibility of making any money before some generic weasel steals your invention.

    No, the glory days of medicine are over.

  • Johan

    Whaaat? Is this a joke?

    “Charging VAT on saturated foods found in processed meat products like sausages, pies and pastries, butter and cream, may help save some lives”

    …are they serious? I have a feeling something is very, very wrong in the UK, and the rest of the world, if such comments are agreed on being correct. Stalin, Lenin and the rest would’ve felt at home….

    Something is rotten….

  • Mark

    Soon there will be a tax on dangerous sports (serious injuries), driving, cycling or walking in towns (high accident rates), watching TV (makes you fat and stupid), and breathing in London (likely to get asthma and allergies).

    Isn’t there already a tax on watching TV in this country?

  • Tom Bridgeland

    Just one thing, in the article you say Atkins recommended unsaturated fats. Actually he recommended saturated fats, or at least said they aren’t much to worry about.

  • Atkins actually says that both, saturated (animal fats) and unsaturated fats are fine as long as you do not consume high level of carbohydrate. It’s the trans fats he warns about, which are articially saturated fats.

    Processed Poison
    While naturally occurring saturated fat has been taking the rap for years, its evil cousin, trans fat, is actually the dangerous one. Certain fats fit the body’s needs like a key fits a lock. Others, however, don’t mesh with the body’s machinery. Trans fats are processed vegetable fats, such as those found in shortening and most margarines. They begin as natural, polyunsaturated fats but are molecularly altered by being artificially saturated with hydrogen in the manufacturing process. Hydrogenation requires heating oil with a catalyst to solidify the fat. Trans fats tend to stick around in the form of arterial plaque and wreak other physiological havoc. A large body of research shows that consumption of trans fats is associated with increased levels of LDL and triglycerides and a decrease in HDL, raising the risk of heart disease.

  • Sandy P.

    Oh, goody, throw more people out of work. That’ll fix Europe’s problems.

    Here’s an even better one. Why don’t they just make fruits and veggies free?