When we walk into a major supermarket, some of us expect to fill our trolleys with nutritious food for the week ahead, but nowadays what we’re presented with is a plethora of products. Disregarding perhaps the periphery of the supermarket where the organic fruits and vegetables are, we’re presented with shelves upon shelves of pre-packaged products that no longer resemble food at all. There are aluminium cans of soft drink, fruit juice boxes that have undergone aseptic processing, foil chip packets filled with oxygen, and in the meat aisle we have identical cuts of bacon in vacuum-sealed plastic. Everything has been processed, packaged and with the help of marketing, made to look enticing and palatable. Sadly, a tomato is no longer a tomato – the marriage of economics, science and technology carries it from seed to plate in the most economically efficient manner. Many ‘food products’ today are mass-produced by large multinational corporations who prioritise efficiency, profits and turnover over the health of arguably their most important asset, their consumers.
In recent years there have been a number of high profile calls for government intervention in the form of taxes or bans to discourage unhealthy diets. These range from Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban in New York City to Hungary’s Hamburger tax. The Australian Medical Association has even weighed in on the debate and voiced support for similar measures in Australia.
This issue can raise various emotive and ideological arguments pertaining to government and individual rights. However, this article will analyse the proposition of a ‘fat tax’ from an economic perspective.