The discussions on fat tax this past week brings up many interesting issues especially when imagining similar fees in the US.  On one level the tax in the Netherlands is supporting economic growth for the government.  At the same time it is very questionable as to whether the system is effective.  Will the Dutch eat less fatty food because they have to pay a few more cents?  I would say that only few people will change their spending habits.  Those who are a part of the upper socioeconomic classes will most likely not change their ways.  In this way the fat tax will increase inequalities in food consumption.  It is even more a problem because the foods with unsaturated fats that are taxed, such as cheese and milk, are only bad for you if you consume them in mass quantities.  There is still great nutritional value in those products that some people may chose not to purchase any more.  Moreover, high calorie foods are not being taxed yet they are equally unhealthy.  Will there be an increase consumption of high calorie food?  It would also be interesting to understand whether this tax was ageist; whether younger populations will turn away from foods with the fat tax.  There are clearly arguments for and against the tax.  It will be interesting to see how it effects the Dutch population over time.

It is hard to conclude whether a fat tax in the US would work or not.  On one hand there are the same economic benefits and stratified drawbacks.  Another influential factor on the effectiveness is the method of instituting the tax.  I think that it would be interesting to understand how the tax was publicized or how aware Dutch consumers are of the tax.  If the fat tax was instituted in the US there would be a lot of publicity in schools, restaurants, and on television.  Consumer awareness of the tax and the purpose of the tax could be the most effective method of decreasing consumptions of the products.  If people are aware that milk, cheese, or any other product is more expensive because the government deemed it to be unhealthy they may not buy it or buy less of it.  In this way the tax is not an economic burden, but an economic identifier of an ‘unhealthy’ product.  This is something that could be going on in the Netherlands; I am just unaware of it.

 

Another way nutritionists and doctors are trying to promote healthy eating is reducing sodium consumption.  Marion Nestle’s post in food politics describes the many opinions concerning current sodium consumption, capacity of changing the food industry, and issues with over consumption of sodium.  Most sodium consumption comes from processed foods.  The American health association argues that a reduction in salt is good for your health.  At the same time the Institute of Food Technologists is worried about decreasing salt consumption too fast.  Moreover there is the struggle of actually decreasing consumption when consumers do not purchase low sodium products or have a demand for them.  The only way to decrease consumption is through government regulation of the levels.  The problem is that industries and especially small businesses or bakeries cannot afford a shift to a product that is not desired by consumers.  Overall the article points out that people realize Americans need to eat less sodium but that we don’t want to change our eating habits. We want to eat salt.

The efforts in the Netherlands to control unsaturated fat consumption and sodium consumption in the US are stupid.  Particularly in the US we value our first amendment rights and even if this does not include the right to eat whatever you want, it is implied.  It is understandable that the government wants healthy citizens, however, that is not the views of the industries that make up our food system.  They are a part of the capitalistic society, just trying to make a profit.  So the best way for the government to help its citizens is to educate them on the diversity and flaws of food offered in the US.  Sadly our government cannot even really do that because of state capture.  We have too many wealthy interest groups and food associations that protect the funds of the meat and processed food industries.  So will anything really change?

 

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