We already have a sugar tax on fizzy drinks and there have been quite a few headlines touting the idea of a meat tax and, most recently, a pudding tax. From the headlines it can feel like another post Christmas diet push, but what is really behind the idea of taxing particular foods? Although the Personal Allowance is rising in April, National Insurance bands in England have been altered and many people feeling the effects of the government’s austerity policy. The idea of additional food tax is quite alarming to many.

What is the Meat Tax?

The suggestion of a tax on red meat has support for two reasons; the health benefits and environmental impact.

Health benefits of eating less red meat

The recommendations around health come from scientists at the University of Oxford. They say that our high intake of red meat (beef, pork and lamb) increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and strokes. This means that those of us who eat a lot of red meat require more care from the NHS as a consequence of this dietary choice.

In 2015, the World Health Organisation announced that processed red meats (like bacon, ham and sausage) could cause cancer and your cancer risk is increased by eating a high amount of even unprocessed red meat.

Oxford University scientists are saying that a tax on red meat would substantially reduce the related ill-health, potentially save 6,000 deaths every year and save the NHS £700m. It would also mean that employers would lose less employee time to associated sickness.

They suggest a 14% tax on red meat and a 79% tax on processed red meat.

Environmental impact of the meat industry

The production of red meat has a significant environmental impact because it requires a lot of land, water and generates a high level of carbon emissions. An overall reduction of the red meat industry would contribute to our solution to climate change.

Arguments against a meat tax

Obviously, this is not good for those currently working in the industry and some people also argue that the government has no right to interfere with their choice of food in this way. Another argument against the red meat tax is that it will primarily have a negative effect on lower income families that are currently buying processed meat because it is the most affordable.

Pudding Tax

This is not a standalone proposal, but is an expansion of the sugar tax on fizzy drinks that has been running since 2017. The major concern here is the nation’s high level of sugar consumption, particularly in children and teenagers. Public Health England’s figures show that the average British 10 year old is already consuming over the recommended intake of sugar for an 18 year old.

Chief nutritionist at Public Health England, Dr Alison Tedstone, said: This is about fighting the nation’s obesity crisis. Too many children and adults suffer the effects of obesity, as does wider society with our NHS under needless pressure. Obesity widens economic inequalities, affecting the poor the hardest.

What is the plan to tackle rising obesity?

The overarching aim is to get the sugar content in most common foods down by one fifth by 2020. As part of this drive, Public Health England have identified 10 categories of foods that are required to lower their products’ sugar content and convince us to buy them. The categories are:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cakes
  • Yoghurts and fromage frais
  • Morning goods
  • Ice cream, lollies and sorbets
  • Sweet spreads and sauces
  • Sweet confectionary
  • Biscuits
  • Chocolate confectionary
  • Puddings – hence the ‘pudding tax’ nickname

According to the most recent statistics, more than 20% of children’s sugar is from ice cream, puddings and sweets. 10% of children’s sugar intake is from fizzy drinks. The result overall is very concerning, with 20% of children categorised as overweight or obese when they start primary school. This rises to one third as they leave primary school, with teenagers consuming three times the recommended amount of sugar for a healthy diet.

What is the most recent part of the campaign?

To tackle this issue, Public Health England launched their Change4Life campaign on 2nd January. Introducing it, Dr Tedstone said:  “Children are consuming too much sugar, but parents can take action now to prevent this building up over the years. To make this easier for busy families, Change4Life is offering a straightforward solution – by making simple swaps each day, children can have healthier versions of everyday foods and drinks, while significantly reducing their sugar intake.”

A pudding tax is another way to fight our growing obesity problem, but comes up against accusations of the ‘nanny state’ making people’s eating decisions for them. Obviously, it would make the products in question more expensive, but perhaps that money would be used to care for those with diet related ill health. There is the argument that manufacturers could help with this health crisis by reducing sugar content voluntarily. But can any industry be relied upon to implement changes that will affect its bottom line?

What do you think?