France chews its own fat

Researchers in France are asking the government to propose a special sales tax on “extra-fatty, salty or sugary” foods, claims an Associated Press story published last Wednesday.  A report submitted by agency experts to the national health and budget ministries late last month presents the tax increase as a drastic measure in the country’s ongoing effort to control swelling obesity rates.  Approximately one in five French citizens are considered obese.
The revenues will help fund the country’s debt-ridden national health care system, which was out $9 billion in 2007 — incredibly, a deficit billions less than in previous years.  So the proceeds from your perfectly buttery, flaky croissant Polaine at could theoretically finance an angioplasty somewhere in Lyon.  The V.A.T. tax on all food in France is currently 5.5%, but the sugary, salty, fatty offenders would be taxed up to a suggested 19.6%.
Given that the report will not be officially presented to legislators until September, much of the AP story is highly speculative. Whether goose-liver lovers will be suffering alongside Le Big Mac aficionados is unclear.   What’s particularly interesting is that this approach is a departure from the education-focused interventions the government has relied upon, and a move more directly hostile to the food industry, which has become increasingly regarded as the culprit in the national widening of waistlines. Would a junk food tax make a measurable difference?  (An imperfect comparison that merits further analysis: A cigarette tax as a disincentive to smokers, a public health intervention that has met with a degree of success.)
And before we get ahead of ourselves: Would such a bill even pass muster?  For a country whose national identity stands upon glistening mounds of lardons it would likely affect most everyone.  With everyone suffering from a collective hit to the wallet these days, such a change could make life really, really difficult for the lower-middle class consumers who rely on many of these products, which are often the most affordable options.
Of course, hell froze over with the demise of the country’s 35-hour workweek, so anything is possible.  (And hey, uh, legislator dudes?  While you’re trying to straighten things out over there, a Pooper Scooper mandate is worth considering.)

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