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Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables

Interesting concept put out by Mark Bittman in the NY Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/24/opi...

Any thoughts, arguments, besides those he presents, as to why it wouldn't work?

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  1. My objection to it is to where, exactly, you draw the line at "bad" food? I'm also against subsidizing the "good' food. I think a compromise would be to stick with drinks, and just tax the sodas. That would be enough to provide a healthy tax income. However, I believe that diet sodas should be taxed as well as regular sodas. They are non-nutritive, and as far as I am concerned, a luxury, so tax away.

    2 Replies
    1. re: EricMM

      Washington State has a relatively high sales tax (but no income tax), but most grocery food is exempt. A couple of years ago the legislature dropped that exception for foods in the 'snack' category in an effort to raise a bit more revenue. A successful referendum restored that exception.

      While much of the advertising for the referendum was funded by vendors and producers (including out of state interests), its success indicates that 'bad' food taxes may not go over that well with voters. It's a bit like tell kids to eat this because 'it is good for you'.
      http://www.candyandsnacktoday.com/arc...

      1. re: paulj

        meh. we tax restaurants. ain't that enough?

    2. Maybe some leadership from our Surgeon General on this one? I'm not sure what she has done since she was appointed - she's all but invisible. Plus-size as she is, maybe she's eating Twinkies somewhere.
      However well intended, Bittman's notion of government manipulation of personal diets through fiscal policy is a slippery slope, and would encounter considerable resistance from lobbyists for the well-healed junk food and soft drink manufacturers. Doling out subsidies for the "good stuff" would be difficult to administer fairly as piggies of every stripe and color would come running to the trough.
      That free will in this country leads to reckless behavior is unfortunate.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        ... are you trying to slam her as being depressed, or as being fat? We do wonder. Metabolic syndrome has been linked to depression.

        1. re: Veggo

          "subsidize" as in "used in school lunches" might fly.

        2. I get about 95% of my calories from meat so I'm not too keen on subsidizing vegetables, I would prefer they subsidize meat.

          12 Replies
          1. re: redfish62

            Meat is well subsidized. Dropping any subsidy on corn, taxing salt and sugar, and applying those monies to subsidy fruits and veggies would go a long way to shifting diets -- and it would be revenue neutral...

              1. re: redfish62

                That's quite the overstatement. I understand concerns about the effects of large amounts of fructose in one's diet, but there are basically no credible nutrition experts who claim that moderate amounts of fruit is unhealthy for someone who isn't already diabetic (or suffering from some other specific medical condition). And at any rate, find me 100 Americans who eat an unhealthy diet, and I'll bet that for 99 of them, the problem isn't too much fruit.

                ... though we do have to be careful we don't just wind up subsidizing juices.

                1. re: cowboyardee

                  depends on the fruit. the common amounts eaten in south america appear to cause developmental abnormalities (specifically related to female fertility and menarche).

              2. re: NVJims

                US sugar is priced well above the world market due to import tariffs and/or quotas.

                1. re: paulj

                  That's true. It's also tangential to the point. Doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad idea to tax the price up even higher.

                  1. re: paulj

                    The sugar tax is certainly one of the highest tax we have, but is it due to import tariffs?

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      it's due to big sugar, the strongest lobby in washington.

                      1. re: Chowrin

                        CHOWRIN

                        But I thought we don't have a big cane sugar industry, which is why we import cane sugar so much....

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          We tax imported cane sugar to protect the domestic sugar beet industry. The rise of corn syrup use in the last 20 years or so is due primarily to the higher cost of sugar because of price controls.

                  2. re: NVJims

                    Well stated.

                    And frankly, Monsanto has done a great deal to hurt the potential of small, diversified organic farming in this country. If people want varied produce to have a fighting chance economically, antitrust action is long overdue.

                  3. re: redfish62

                    Meat is already heavily subsidized in many guises. Most people aren't aware of how expensive meat was up till WWII. In my grandmother's childhood in the UK in the 1920s, the annual butcher's bill for a family of four was higher than the maid's annual wages.

                  4. I don't like the idea of taxing "junk" food in order to subsidize "healthful" food, especially when the food we would be taxing is already so heavily subsidized. I would fully support a phase out of subsidies for corn, wheat, and soy. That alone would at least increase the sticker price of a lot of "junk" foods to match the actual cost of production, and might in turn make less processed foods more attractive.

                    1. How about a value added tax on all food, on the theory that the more hands it passes through, the higher the tax? More processed food would end up being taxed more, right? The devil's in the details, though.