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Parties mull meat tax to offset health, environmental impact

Would higher prices on meat and sugar nudge residents in a healthier direction or put poorer groups at a disadvantage?

Ahead of the general elections, several political parties in Finland say taxing meat could save on healthcare costs and the climate. Image: AOP

Several parties are calling for higher taxes on meat in the name of public health ahead of the general elections. Critics, however, point out that higher consumption taxes on meat disproportionately affect low-income earners.

Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has said adults in Finland eat too much meat and not enough vegetables. The health watchdog has also called for residents to increase their daily intake of fruits and vegetables.

Going green

Parties across the political spectrum are advocating for taxes steering residents in a plant-based direction. The Social Democrats, Greens and Blue Reform want to tax foods considered unhealthy.

"Changes to value-added food tax are the most efficient way of affecting consumption habits," Sebastian Hielm, Food Safety Director at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, told Yle.

The SDP is eyeing new taxes on alco-pops and junk food -- processed items with high levels of sugar, salt and saturated fat.

The Christian Democrats said new sugar taxes could channel 250 million euros into state coffers, while the Greens said consumption taxes on sugary products could raise up to 130 million in revenue.

The Blue Reform wants to lower the current 14-percent VAT rate on food and remove all tax on vegetables.

Taxing burgers?

Left-leaning parties are meanwhile homing in on meat consumption. The Left Alliance and the Social Democrats have said they want to make it more expensive to eat meat. The Left Alliance and the Greens have called for removing subsidies for meat farmers, causing higher production costs to trickle down to consumers.

The conservative National Coalition has said it wants to steer Finns’ consumption habits into a more environmentally sustainable direction, suggesting measures such as introducing vegan food in schools and work place cafeterias.

With its strong rural support base, the Centre Party is unlikely to suggest higher taxes on meat products. The Centre’s election programme calls for Finnish food production to become carbon neutral by 2040, but doesn’t cite climate concerns as a reason for residents to alter their eating habits.

The Swedish People’s Party has also been low-key on the issue, choosing to talk about consumer awareness instead.

The Finns Party’s election programme does not mention food or VAT.

Sticker shock

Taxes have proven effective in influencing what people put in their mouths--at least to some degree. But Hielm from the agriculture ministry points out that any increases to VAT would have to be relatively high to be effective, reaching up to 35 to 50 percent.

”The problem with raising the VAT is that it hurts the poorest people. However if healthy food was VAT-free, less advantaged groups would have access to healthier options. We know that people on the lower end of the socio-economic scale don’t eat as well as other groups,” he explained.