Call to tax junk food to boost produce sales

The price of vegetables has risen while the cost of some processed foods has dropped over the same period, driving obesity, says a new report by UK think tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

The ODI study of relative food prices in Brazil, China, Korea and Mexico, – the first of its kind in emerging economies – found that fruit and vegetables rose in price by up to 91% between 1990 and 2012, a price hike higher than other any other food group.

The ODI report ‘The rising cost of a healthy diet’ compares retail food prices dating back as far as 30 years and finds that the trend is similar in the UK and the USA. In the UK, from 1980 to 2012, the price of an ice cream halved while the price of fresh green vegetables tripled.

Researchers say the rising cost of fruit and vegetables may be due – in part – to cutting-edge technologies that result in higher quality vegetables such as produce that is cut, trimmed, bagged and washed, and available all year round.

“In January 2014, in an attempt to curb obesity, Mexico introduced taxes on sugary drinks and energy-dense food. Everyone is watching to see what effects these taxes have, as policy-makers in rich and poor countries struggle to respond to the looming health epidemic caused by changing diets,” said Mr. Wiggins. The report recommends that emerging economy governments consider introducing taxes and subsidies to offset these price changes. Mr. Wiggins added, “Research in the UK in 2009 predicted that imposing a VAT-style 17.5% tax on less healthy food and using the proceeds to subsidise fruit and vegetables would save between 3,600 and 6,400 premature deaths a year from diet-related disease.”

First published on HortNews on 27 May 2015.