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Denmark: Tax on Sugar Proposed

(Mar. 13, 2012) In order to improve the health of its citizens by reducing their use of sugar, Denmark's government is considering taxing the product. Speaking on March 5, 2012, Pia Olsen Dyhr, the acting Minister of Health, stated that such a tax would encourage people to eat more healthily and would raise money that could be put to use for public health programs. (Peter Stanners, Minister Defends Controversial Sugar Tax, THE COPENHAGEN POST (Mar. 6, 2012).)

The proposal was questioned, however, by Arne Astrup, an expert in nutrition from the University of Copenhagen, who argued that the tax could result in greater consumption of artificial sweeteners, which have their own health risks. “There seems to be a portion of society who become hungry from experiencing a sweet taste without sugar entering the bloodstream, and that could make people eat more of the wrong food to tackle the hunger,” Astrup stated, adding “[t]here are also studies that show an increased risk of strokes from consuming these artificial sweeteners.” (Id.)

Denmark introduced a similar tax on any food with more than 2.3% saturated fat, effective from October 1, 2011. Any food product that meets that threshold for fat content is taxed at a rate of Danish Krone 6 per kilogram (about US$1.29 a pound). The purpose was to encourage Danes to select foods with less saturated fat; transfats are already banned in the country. (Denmark Introduces World's First Food Fat Tax, BBC NEWS (Oct. 1, 2011); Karen Kaplan, Fat Tax in Denmark: Why They Have It; Could It Happen in the U.S.? [Updated], LOS ANGELES TIMES (Oct. 3, 2012).)

Some critics have pointed out that both the fat tax and the proposed tax on sugar will have the most impact on low income citizens. Joan Preisler, a consultant for a supermarket group, noted “that's because people won't immediately change our [sic] habits. Meat will still be the focus of their meal, and by not cutting down on that, they simply end up with less money to buy the healthier food.” (Stanners, supra.) Still others fear that the tax will result in a loss of jobs, but Dyhr has said the tax is an important means for improving people's diets. (Id.)