Denmark’s ‘Fat Tax’

by | October 6, 2011 | nutrition

In the news this week, we have heard that Denmark is the first country to introduce a fax on foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat.  This includes things like butter, oil, cheese and some meats.

The aim of the tax is to change the behaviour of the Danish people, prompting them to choose foods which contain lower levels of saturated, and will therefore be better for them.

I am not an expert in public health policy like this, but I can see so many flaws with this approach.

Firstly, new research is surfacing all the time telling us that saturated fat is not as bad as we once thought it was.  The sharp rise in heart disease and cancers we have seen over the past 50 years correlates with the introduction of nutrient-bereft processed foods into the western diet.  Our consumption of sugar has also increased dramatically over the past few decades which is thought to play a part in the development of most chronic diseases.

It’s been the general perception that if the label says ‘low fat’, then it must be healthy; but these foods are generally lacking in nutrients and are high in sugar, ie. not at all healthy!  After all, a 1kg bag of caster sugar can very legitimately be labelled ‘100% fat free’…  And many natural foods contain plenty of saturated fat – most notably butter and meat.

I think a tax on fatty foods is simply pushing people in the direction of low fat processed foods which don’t provide any ‘goodness’.  When we eat food, the body needs vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to process it correctly.  When we eat food that doesn’t contain any of these nutrients, we are simply using up the stores we have in our bodies.  And after a while of eating this way we end up with deficiencies.

But apart from the fact that saturated fat might not be the most worthy recipient of a food tax, where is the Danish government going to draw the line?  Will we see a tax on high salt or high sugar foods?  On red meat? On foods that contain additives?  I hope not, because I think that would only serve to demonise certain foods, which is not a good starting point when trying to engender positive change within a population.  Demonising foods leads to misinterpretation and an unbalanced diet.