Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Red meat tax?

Boyd Swinburn's group wants rather a lot more controls on what we all get to eat. 

Radio NZ covers his report here; Chris Snowdon's summary of it is best.
The lead author of the report is Boyd Swinburn, a New Zealand doctor and food campaigner who declared last week on Twitter that the EAT-Lancet report shows where diets need to get to while his report shows how to get there. They are two sides of the same coin and whilst there is no shortage of policy suggestions in the EAT-Lancet document, including rationing and the outright prohibition of certain food products, the Lancet Commission takes it a stage further by calling for a global treaty.

Swinburn is obsessed with the web of corporate interests he sees all around him, thwarting his efforts to get the public to eat their greens. In 2017, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health commissioned the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research to look at the pros and cons of taxing sugary drinks. When the economists concluded, accurately, that ‘the evidence that sugar taxes improve health is weak’, Swinburn wrote a furious article denouncing ‘economists steeped in last century’s economic theories’, ‘merchants of doubt’ and the ‘vested interests of the food industry’. It is a theme he returns to with tedious regularity in the Lancet report.


Swinburn et al. seem to believe that the only barrier to governments leaping headlong into an extensive systems of taxes, warnings, bans and restrictions is ‘Big Food’. Whilst it would be naive to think that the various food lobbies have no influence on government policy, the authors never consider the possibility that this is because the industry’s arguments about trade, jobs, choice and prices appeal to politicians and, ultimately, to the public. ‘Big Food’ may not want tobacco-style regulation, but it is a logical fallacy to infer from this that politicians who reject such an approach have only done so because of ‘powerful lobbying’.

Whether or not the authors actually believe this narrative, it serves two useful purposes. Firstly, it allows wealthy activist-academics in the multi-billion dollar ‘public health’ industry to view themselves as plucky underdogs fighting Goliath. Secondly, it absolves them from answering difficult questions about whether their demands are reasonable, fair, or even realistic
Do read Snowdon's whole piece. Stuff has some of the government's response:
Associate Minister of Health Julie Anne Genter​ said the Government did not plan to tax red meat "at this stage", but an increase in awareness about climate change was affecting people's behaviour.

"Obesity and climate change are often framed as problems for individuals to change. This report shows it has been a failure of public policy and we need government action to protect our health and our climate."

The commission called for a global treaty, like those established for climate change and tobacco, to help governments restrict the influence of the food industry on policy and the establishment of a global philanthropic fund of US$1 billion (NZ$1.46b) "to support social movements demanding policy action".

The Lancet editor-in-chief Dr Richard Horton said the business model of large international food and beverage companies led to over-consumption of junk food in both high-income countries and, increasingly, low and middle-income countries.

Genter said she was "interested to learn more about how a global treaty would work, as politicians need to play their part too".

Swinburn said the food industry should be excluded from the "policy-making table" as the profit motive would always win out over improving health and reducing climate change.
There's a very good case for agricultural emissions globally coming under emission trading schemes or carbon taxes. In the absence of international coordination, the case gets tougher because you have to worry about whether production gets displaced to places where meat production is more carbon-intensive. Animal product prices would go up after agricultural emissions were included in the ETS, or in carbon taxes, but it would be a mistake to call that a red meat tax. It's more like, if you had a GST that excluded food products, getting rid of the exemption isn't a "food tax".

Going beyond that though, to tax and regulate and nudge and force everyone into eating and drinking only Boyd-Approved products - no thanks.


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