UK Politics

Fat tax: Mike Rayner on unhealthy foods

Media captionMike Rayner is calling for a "fat tax" to get the British eating more healthily and cut back on fizzy drinks, chocolate, crisps and pasties

A fat tax could raise money and help get people eating more healthily, says a director at the University of Oxford.

Health promotion research group director Mike Rayner said at least a quarter of British adults are obese, and that is costing the health services billions of pounds of year every year.

He called for a 12p tax on soft drinks, even bigger than the 2 cents tax introduced in France, claiming it would prevent several thousand deaths a year as people switched to healthier drinks.

But Labour MP Angela Eagle and Liberal Democrat minister Steve Webb suggested better packaging and education were likely to be more practical options.

Mr Rayner said taxes were already used to discourage people from drinking or smoking and a fat tax plan would raise money for the Treasury and prevent people dying.

He said: "There's evidence to show that manipulating food prices can encourage healthy eating. So why are we so reluctant to change the way we tax food?

"We're in the grip of an obesity crisis. As a nation we're consuming too many calories and eating too much cheap, energy-dense food, like crisps, chocolate bars or fizzy drinks."

Chips or doughnuts

He explained how Denmark introduced a 'fat tax' on foods containing saturated fats, which raise cholesterol.

He said: "They've got the right idea, but a lot of the low-fat foods in Britain are high in salt, so we might be tackling one problem only to create another.

"Instead we need to rethink the way we apply VAT to food. At the moment we have a muddled system: you do pay tax on some relatively-healthy things like smoothies, but you don't pay it on a lot of junk food like chips or doughnuts.

"I don't care whether it's hot or cold, whether you got it from a takeaway or a shop - I'd like us to tax all unhealthy foods from butter to biscuits. And in doing so we can tackle a problem that will only keep expanding."

His film was shown to two MPs to gauge what support there might be from politicians.

Media captionLabour MP Angela Eagle called for better food labelling and education, instead of a "fat tax" for high-calorie food and drink as suggested by a director at the University of Oxford

Mr Webb, a Liberal Democrat pensions minister, called on manufacturers to put "put less junk into the food" and said of the fat tax: "It should certainly be looked at, but not as a tax-raising measure."

He added: "We should look at Denmark and other countries who have tried it and see what the evidence is, so we need to do it based on the evidence. But it is worth looking at, I agree."

Ms Eagle, the shadow leader of the House of Commons, called for better food labelling and education and said a fat tax was a "lot easier said than done".

She said: "My instinct is that VAT or tax may have a role to play but education, assistance, and regulation of some of the salt content in food is all equally important."

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