National Consumers League

Danish fat tax won't fly in the US (but it should!)


By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
According to Consumers Union, Denmark has launched an effort to improve public health with a “fat tax” – it’s $1.50 a pound on food such as bacon, butter, and pastries, that contain more than  2.3 percent saturated fat. Right off the bat, I can tell you this wouldn’t fly in the United States. Consumer and health care advocates couldn’t get any traction on a bill to put a penny tax – a penny! – on sugary drinks. Not only that but the sugar industry waged an expensive campaign to kill the proposal and succeeded. They made it about “freedom,” a brilliant PR strategy that worked. So $1.50 a pound on fat ain’t happening anytime soon in the United States.
That said, this Danish tax has its good points. Fats – even healthy ones -  add a lot of calories per gram compared to carbohydrates and proteins – 9 grams vs 4 respectively, and with 2/3 of Americans being overweight or obese, nothing raises awareness like raising the price on unhealthy foods.
Some fats are good for you, but saturated fat isn’t among them. It’s unhealthy because it encourages the body to produce more cholesterol. In contrast, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods such as salmon and trout, nuts, avocados and vegetable oils can actually cut heart disease. The Danes are not for taxing those fats.
Time will tell if this Danish tax on saturated fats will help to reduce the intake of unhealthy fatty  foods. Even if it’s a nonstarter in the United States, creative ideas like what the Danes are implementing deserve serious consideration.