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Healthy food should be cheaper, argues Israeli lobbyist

By Rod Addy , 14-Aug-2012

Healthy food should be made cheaper and a ‘fat tax’ should not be treated simplistically in Israel, the head of the public health lobby in Israel’s parliament has told FoodNavigator.

The country is the latest in a long line of countries that have already introduced, or are currently considering introducing, a tax on products containing high amounts of sugar and fat. The latest development is that the Israel Tax Authority has come out in support of the idea.

However, Dr Rachel Adato told FoodNavigator: “You can’t say everything with a high quantity of fat and sugar has to have a tax. You can’t put everything in the same basket. I can’t say, ‘don’t eat ice cream or chocolate’.”

She also objected to unfairly targeting some products with a tax and not others. “One week ago in Israel, they raised the tax on beer and cigarettes. I objected to the beer – if you raise tax on beer, why not other alcoholic drinks? It’s something similar when you talk about food.

One of the problems, said Adato, was that healthier foods were often higher in price, which meant that if you taxed unhealthy foods you were preventing poorer people from being able to afford enough to eat. “If you tax bread with white flour [for example], bread with brown flour already has a high price, which means people will not be able to afford basic things like bread.

“We need to encourage people to buy healthy food, rather than putting a price on unhealthy food.”

Healthier lifestyles

She added that tackling obesity and dietary-related diseases required encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles. “We need a change of action in schools. This is not only about food, but all kinds of lifestyle issues.”

If a tax on unhealthier products were to be introduced, she said, she called for the formation of a committee to analyse carefully which products should be taxed, rather than a simplistic move.

Eli Budman, research and development food engineer at Israel’s Gan Shmuel Group, said: “I think that a real change in the attitude of the consumers can be obtained by education through the Health system, doctors, newspapers and other media and not by taxation.”

A survey of 270 people in Israel published last month in The Marker, a third of respondents supported the imposition of a fat tax on sugary drinks and snacks to deal with obesity.

40 opinion-formers and policy-makers were interviewed for the survey, which was conducted by Gartner Institute researchers. Only a third objected to introducing a ‘fat tax’ on sugary drinks and snacks.

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