Tony Falkenstein, who ironically sells water to Kiwis, wants to tax sugar and fat as a way fo tackling obesity.
Unfortunately his article is almost totally wrong in fact and in direction.
His suggestion that we tax sugar is so wrong medically as to be funny, MacDoctor explains:
Fast forward to the present day and most OECD countries have no shortage of food at all. In addition, carbohydrates are the easiest energy source to produce and therefore the most abundant in the types of food we eat. Worse, most carbohydrates are in a form that is readily metabolised straight to glucose (so-called high glycaemic index food). Should you have the gene for insulin resistance your sugar levels will gradually rise as your poor pancreas tries to cope with the sugar load. Eventually the pancreas loses the fight and you develop diabetes (note: not everyone with this gene will develop diabetes)
Immediately one can see the absolute pointlessness of a sugar tax. Potatoes, white bread, rice and pasta become sugar in the body as fast as pure cane sugar and nearly as fast as glucose powder. Taxing sugar is like sticking your finger in the dyke when the tsunami alarm has just gone off. And taxing carbohydrates in general is just adding a tax to nearly all food.
It is the combination of plentiful food and high levels of easily accessible cheap carbohydrates that has produced both the diabetes and the obesity epidemics. This is unlikely to be easily changed because plentiful, cheap food is a GOOD thing, despite the few disadvantages. There is no famine in New Zealand and even the poorest of people should not go hungry (some, of course, do, but that is not usually due to food being unobtainable).
Falkenstein then also compares sugar to tobacco. The MacDoctor tears that apart as well:
Mr Falkenstein suggests we are all addicted to sugar in the same way that people are addicted to tobacco. This is a very poor analogy. We are wired to like the taste of fats and carbohydrates in our basic genes because these are the high-calories foods we need to consume in order to survive. We are not in any way wired to like burning tobacco. While I have some sympathy for the view of Mr. Falkenstein that the health industry uses false advertising techniques similar to the tobacco companies, I should point out that Mr. Falkenstein himself in the CEO of a bottled water company, surely the biggest health con of the lot!
Be that as it may, the food industry in general is merely responding to what people like to eat. We want tasty fats and carbohydrates. Therefore, that is what they provide and advertise. Unlike, tobacco, which requires a certain amount of peer pressure and brand-generated desire to produce a habit, the food industry merely has to produce something appetising. The product will then continue to sell itself.
If Falkensteins proposals were looked at for implementation, probably by idiots like the Labour party then what would be taxed:
What we should be looking at with a critical eye is exactly what would be taxed in this regime proposed by Mr Falkenstein, because we are not simply talking about candy bars and coke.
- Honey 80% sugar
- Packet mixed nuts and raisins 27% (without raisins 5%)
- Tomato sauce 16% sugar (Baked beans 8.2%)
- Fruit juice 10.4%
- Peanut butter 5%
- Milk 4.2%
- Bread 2%
- Packet of Pringles 1%
Now, when you can explain to me how a packet of Pringles in a child’s lunchbox is somehow better than a packet of nuts and raisins, I will agree that a tax on sugar is a good thing.
Falkenstein also suggests a tax on fat, without going into too much detail on that, since he didn’t, that is the dumbest idea of all. If we want to look at taxing anything in a bid to halting obesity it should be wheat.