Indian state of Kerala introduces fat tax

Kerala to impose a 14.5 per cent levy on meat products and fast food as part of drive to curb obesity epidemic

Indian street scene including a McDonald's restaurant

It’s been a good month for radical political input into the food debate. Just as the new mayor of Turin launches a drive to make the city meat free, so a new Communist-led coalition government in the Indian state of Kerala is attempting to make its dietary mark – this time by introducing a fat tax.

The southern Indian state has a population of 34.8 million and the second highest rate of obesity in India, after Punjab. India itself, a country of 1.25 billion, is the third most obese country in the world, after the US and China. Keralans are largely non-vegetarian and sales of meat are rising in tandem with increasing affluence.

The 14.5 per cent tax, described as a “preventative measure” by Thomas Isaac, the state’s finance minister, will be payable on fast food including burgers and chicken served by the likes of McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King. The fat tax is expected to hit £1.4 billion meat and meat product industry hard.

In his budget speech in the state assembly earlier this month, Isaac said: “An extra tax of 14.5 per cent will be added as a fat tax [on] food products [that are] prepared and sold in branded restaurants – like burgers, pizzas, tacos, doughnuts, sandwiches, burger patties and bread fillings and other items.”

Isaac said the step was intended to stop spiralling rates of obesity and ill health linked to an increasingly westernised diet, heavy on meat, salt and sugar. “Kerala’s food habits are changing dramatically,” he said. “People are eating a lot of junk food and rejecting traditional food. The fight against fat has just begun.”

Critics argue that traditional food can also be unhealthy, however, and suggest the state government would be better off promoting more healthy food and pricing it more attractively. Others complain about the decision by the authorities to target the “elite section of society”.

Kerala is following in the footsteps of countries such as Denmark, Hungary and Mexico in imposing a fat tax, while Mexico and the US city of Philadelphia also charge people extra to buy sugary drinks. The state government is also said to be considering the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks, as well as products made with refined flour.

 

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