Renewed calls for new nutritional survey and junk-food tax

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 30th September 2009

A leading anti-obesity group is calling on the Federal Government to fund a nutritional survey as part of their drive to determine what food items should be taxed.

The Obesity Policy Coalition, which includes the Cancer Council Victoria and VicHealth among its members, is pushing for a junk food tax and they claim a new nutritional survey would allow for analysis of the ‘highest risk’ foods and future comparisons. As such, a framework could be developed for a targeted junk food tax.

The health group argues that there has been no comprehensive research since the mid-90s other than data into the eating habits of children.

Taxes on unhealthy foods have polarised opinion around the world and whether Australia decides to tread down that path remains unclear. A report by the government-funded Preventative Health Taskforce recently recommended more analysis about the potential for food taxes to be used to encourage eating of healthier food or discourage consumption of junk food.
The Taskforce recommended carrying out a National Risk Factor Survey in 2010.

“This is where we need to commission independent modelling, really to look for a rationalised tax and excise regime for alcohol that discourages the harmful consumption and promotes safer consumption,” Rob Moodie, who chaired the Preventative Health Taskforce said, upon releasing the report last month.

Obesity Policy Coalition Senior Adviser Jane Martin told The Age earlier this week that more in-depth research was needed to ascertain suitable intervention strategies. ”If we haven’t got the data on what people are eating and drinking and how habits are changing over time … it’s hard to know where to intervene and get a sense of the impact of any reform.”
The leading representative of food and grocery manufacturers, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, has previously outlined their contention that junk food taxes will not solve the problem of obesity but has not ruled out supporting taxation to encourage healthy eating.

“Food taxes are regressive as they penalise people who can least afford it – however industry does support a review of taxation policies that promote active living and healthy lifestyles,” AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell advised last month.

The Federal Government, meanwhile, is currently awaiting results of the Henry tax review and is no doubt keen to find ways to reduce the budget deficit. To date they have been non-committal to most of the recommendations of the Preventative Health Taskforce and have steered clear of any definitive statements.

“We’ll take that onboard, but I don’t intend to tip my hand one way or the other,” Treasurer Wayne Swan said recently. “These are all important matters that are being considered through the Henry Review. As you’re aware, it doesn’t report until the end of the year and then we go from there through next year’s budget.”

The Henry Review will also look at the potential impact of higher tobacco and alcohol taxes.