NO: 'Bad-food' taxes will clog our economic arteries beyond repair
By Andrew P. Morriss
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Proponents of an American Nanny State have a plan to improve your health: tax sugar and “junk” food so you will eat less of it. Subsidies for broccoli and beets are close behind.
These plans for bureaucrats and politicians to remake your diet are bad news for four reasons.
• It is no one’s business but yours what you eat. The freedom to eat a slice of apple pie might not sound quite as stirring as freedom of speech, but the ability to choose how to live our lives is the most fundamental freedom. What you eat is no one’s business but yours.
• Even if the government has a role to play in guiding our dietary choices, efforts at restructuring Americans’ lives via the tax code are fundamentally flawed.
This strategy has given us a tax system of unimaginable complexity: The Internal Revenue Code is almost 10 million words long, and if you stacked IRS regulations into a pile they’d be more than a foot tall.
The leading publication for tax professionals takes up nine feet of shelf space. And that doesn’t count the tens of thousands of pages of laws and regulations concerning sales, use, property, excise, and other taxes levied by all layers of government.
Taxes need to be simple and easy to administer. As tax laws get fatter, they clog our economic arteries and stifle economic growth. Trying to fine tune Americans’ diets via a “junk food” tax will further fatten the tax laws, and the wallets of accountants and tax lawyers.
If there are any Americans unaware that sugar and potato chips are fattening – despite our $35 billion per year diet industry – we don’t need a tax to enlighten them, just some public service announcements.
• The government’s record on dietary control is problematic. The federal government has been involved in the sugar market since the War of 1812. Nanny Staters promise that this time they’ll get things right, but if they haven’t managed to do so in 200 years, why should we believe them now?
The details of official rules are written in back rooms in Congress and government agencies. When those details are drafted, those best able to influence the results are the lawyers and lobbyists for special interest groups.
For sugar, that’s the manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup and the 17 domestic sugar cane producers who reap millions of dollars annually under our current agricultural subsidies and sugar tariffs – not you and me.
• The Nanny State brigade promises to spend the extra tax money on subsidies for “healthy” foods and lifestyles. New York Times columnist Matt Bittman enthuses about money for “gyms, pools, jogging and bike trails”; Meals on Wheels for the elderly; Head Start programs for children; and “supermarkets and farmers markets.”
If we examine the government’s record in spending the billions of dollars from state governments’ lawsuits against tobacco companies, we can see that this is pure fantasy.
Remember when the states settled their lawsuits against the tobacco companies in 1998? The settlements produced billions in new state revenues from higher cigarette prices.
States promised to spend vast sums on anti-smoking programs. The reality is different. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids tracks state tobacco prevention spending and tobacco revenues and found that over the first 10 years of the settlement, states spent just 3.2 percent of the money on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
Nanny Staters promise the sun, moon and stars to get new taxes on the books, but deliver little else.Andrew Morriss is a professor of law and business at the University of Alabama. Email him at email@example.com. (McClatchy-Tribune)
YES: Tax on junk food can help pay the costs of diet-related diseases
FINLAND, Minn. – America’s industrial food and farming system – dominated by fast-food restaurants and processed, chemical-laden food – has precipitated a public health crisis.
Although nutritionists recommend that consumers avoid eating unhealthful junk foods, every day 75 million Americans “supersize” themselves and damage their health by eating at fast-food restaurants.
Forty percent of American meals are now bought and consumed outside the home, typically consisting of high-calorie, low-nutrition items such as soft drinks, french fries, and low-grade meat laced with fat, cheap sweeteners, pesticide residues, chemical additives and salt.
We have become a Fast Food Nation of bulging waistlines and high blood pressures.
• Recent studies link pesticide residues and chemical additives such as MSG in processed foods and restaurant fare to hormone disruption and obesity. No wonder 60 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. Consider these distressing facts:
• One in every three children born since the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
• Diet-related obesity, diabetes and heart disease are now the nation’s No. 1 public health problem, generating an estimated $150 billion in health-care costs every year.
• Millions of youths and adults have literally become addicted to the chemically enhanced junk food served in fast-food restaurants, school lunchrooms and institutional cafeterias.
• In 1972, U.S. consumers spent $3 billion a year on fast food; today we spend more than $110 billion.
The junk-food industry, now under attack by public health advocates and parents, finds itself in a similar position to where the tobacco industry was in the 1990s.
After decades of lies and industry propaganda, the truth is finally coming out: junk food kills.
Indeed, despite individual efforts by some states to tax soda pop, require more healthful school lunches or mandate calorie information in chain restaurants, obesity rates in the United States are growing.
It is time for the federal government to stop subsidizing, with billions of dollars of public tax money, the factory-farmed crops and animal products such as corn, soybeans, cotton, dairy and meat that create the artificially low prices that prop up the nation’s junk food industry.
We need to subsidize healthful organic food, not junk food, and promote sustainable food and farming practices, instead of subsidizing factory farms and chemical-intensive farming and food processing.
We need to provide physical education, cooking, nutrition and gardening classes in our schools, and ban or restrict the advertising of junk foods in the mass media.
We need to teach children and adults alike to eat less meat and fatty foods and instead to increase their consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It is time to put a surgeon general’s warning on junk foods. It’s time to come to grips with the fact that we have allowed the junk-food industry and the mass media to brainwash our youths and turn them into fast-food addicts.
Studies have shown that school organic gardens, salad bars and healthful lunches improve the health and academic performance of young people. Healthful eating habits and gardening skills nurtured and developed at an early age most often have a lifetime impact.
So yes, let’s slap a heavy tax on junk food served at fast-food restaurants and in school cafeterias. A 100 percent tax on junk food and beverages would help pay for the collateral damages of this industry: the $150 billion in diet-related disease and health-care costs now incurred by the public and taxpayers for obesity and diabetes.
But of course we shouldn’t hold our breath for Washington’s indentured politicians, who receive millions of dollars in campaign donations from Big Food Inc., to take action. We’re going to have to organize at the grass roots and local level and fight for public health every step of the way, just like we’ve done with the tobacco industry.Ronnie Cummins is the national director of the Organic Consumers Association. (McClatchy-Tribune)