Scottish food standards agency considers junk food tax

17 Aug 16

Scotland’s notoriously lethal love affair with unhealthy food could be targeted with a special junk food tax under plans published today by a new Scottish Government agency, Food Standards Scotland.

In its first corporate plan the agency, formed under the 2015 Food (Scotland) Act, promises regulatory interventions to combat Scotland’s perennial tendency to unhealthy eating, as part of a five-year strategy to “identify and dissuade non-compliance, while providing incentives and rewards for compliance.”

One of these could be some form of junk food tax, distinct from any proposals that emerge from the UK Government, which already plans to tax sugary soft drinks. FSS says that its strategy will include “exploring regulated, legislative or fiscal measures that may be appropriate, particularly where previous or existing voluntary arrangements have been unsuccessful.”

Where voluntary measures cannot be agreed with industry and other stakeholders to improve the Scottish diet, the agency says, its board is committed to “if necessary develop[ing] recommendations for fiscal or regulatory measures where effective industry-led solutions cannot be established.

“Rebalancing the diet must be a shared responsibility – shared between individuals, communities, the food and drink industry and both local and central government,” the paper says. “Behaviour change alone will not deliver the scale of change we seek.” 

Scotland’s diet is blamed for some of Europe’s highest rates of obesity and associated health problems, notably cardiovascular conditions. But food and drink is also an important Scottish industry, and the sector is likely to oppose any new fiscal measures that might put it at a competitive disadvantage.

In his foreword to the strategy paper, FSS chairman and former Scottish agriculture minister Ross Finnie says that the new agency has an important part to play in helping sustain the success and the reputation of the Scottish food industry, and safeguard consumer confidence in it.

But he adds: “Our statutory role also includes providing advice in relation to diet and nutrition, with a particular focus on how we can help people in Scotland have diets that support good health, thereby reducing the impact of diet-related ill health, including conditions related to over-weight and obesity.”

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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