9:24 p.m.  Chiefs trail by a touchdown in the third quarter. Hope lives.

Tonight's blog focus: the fat tax and why the produce industry should embrace it.

From coverage in New York by AP, lawmakers look to use "soda tax" to help defeat food deserts:

Fewer groceries in urban and rural areas statewide have worsened the so-called food deserts in New York, where the poor have little access to affordable fresh produce and nutritious foods, a study finds.

The American Cancer Society study recommends several measures, including a tax of 1 cent per ounce on sugar-sweetened drinks to help fund and evaluate childhood obesity programs and other efforts. The so-called fat tax was defeated in fierce lobbying in Albany after it was pushed by former Gov. David Paterson to combat childhood obesity and diabetes.

Funding could help entice grocery stores in these areas and to bolster community gardens and the availability of fresh produce, the study also suggests. The cancer society also seeks a moratorium on new licenses for convenience stores, pharmacies and fast-food restaurants within 1,000 feet of schools.

TK: Argument number one: use the revenues from the fat tax to increase availability of fresh produce. Fund a fresh produce campaign with "fat tax" revenues.... 

Next consider this coverage from the Huffington Post. From the story: 

According to intensive medical research in the US, fatty processed foods and high fructose sugar treats can be as addictive as cocaine and cigarettes.

The shocking findings come after American scientists looked into the results from 28 independent studies on food addiction. According to the most recent study by the University of Florida in Gainesville, the findings were so stark, it was hard to ignore the obvious links between junk foods and food addiction.

"The data is so overwhelming the field has to accept it," says Nora Volkow from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "We are finding tremendous overlaps between drugs in the brain and food in the brain."

During their investigation, researchers found that obese and compulsive eaters were irresistibly drawn to images of junk food in the same way cocaine addicts were when shown a bag of the white powder.

TK: Argument number two:  Why is the produce industry so reluctant to take on "junk food"? By comparison with powdered donuts, fresh produce is obviously  winning play for consumers and public health. Make choice between the two contrasting options stark and a defining element for consumers.

Finally consider news about the "fat tax" from around the world. From the UK, comes an opinion piece that takes a decidedly negative tone against "fat taxes." From Patrick Basham:

Why do fat taxes fail? The economic answer is that demand for food tends to be largely insensitive to price. Considerable research on food prices has demonstrated this inelasticity. A 10 per cent increase in price, for instance, reduces consumption by less than one per cent.

TK: Creating an economic disincentive to purchase cigarettes and alcohol is well-accepted public policy. The same should be true for junk food. 

From Denmark, a report from USDA FAS:

On October 1, 2011, the Danish government implemented a tax on food high in saturated fat. Products affected by the tax include meat, cheese, butter and vegetable oils [1] . The tax is the first of its kind in the EU and was imposed to help Danish consumers make better and healthier food choices. For the same reason, Denmark imposed similar health related taxes on confectionary and soft drinks between 2008 and 2010. The fat tax rate is DKK 16 per kg saturated fat and applies to domestic and imported food products with a saturated fat content exceeding 2.3%. The expected cost for Danish food producers and importers is about DKK 1 billion (USD 180 million) per year. The tax will be collected by the processors and importers, not the retail sector.

From Hungary, reports of a chip tax.

Following the introduction of a new tax on „unhealthy‟ foods in September, the Government of Hungary (GOH) is seeking to both generate revenue and promote healthier diets. Implemented on September 1, 2011, the Act on Public Health Tax, or more commonly, the “Chips Tax”, was expected to bring in HUF 20 billion (USD 95 million) in proceeds, which are earmarked for public health programs and higher salaries for doctors. The levy is imposed on high sugar content soft drinks, caffeine added energy drinks, high sugar candies and chocolate products, and some salty snacks and condiments. The OECD reported in 2005 that, at nearly 19%, Hungary had the world‟s 8th highest obesity rate. However, revenue collection figures for the first month are less than expected and the tax may be having negative effects on investment and employment. Starting in January 2012, the GOH plans to increase the tax rates and expand the scope of the tax to include coffee, flavored beers, and low alcohol (“fizzy”) drinks.

A soda tax in France:

The French National Assembly passed a tax on all soft drinks with added sugar or artificially sweetened to raise €280 million ($380 million) a year. Beverages without added sugar, such as natural fruit juices, are excluded from the tax, in addition to beverages with alcohol content. The tax will be paid by manufacturers and processors, as well as French importers. A significant share (€160 million or $216 million) of the money raised will be used to fund a lowering of social taxes on farm labor. U.S. companies, especially Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, will bear the bulk of this tax. French media reports that Coca-Cola alone would disburse more than €100 million. It has also been reported that Coca-Cola had unsuccessfully lobbied against the extension of the tax to artificially sweetened drinks, due to concern about its strong market position with Coke Zero and Diet Coke. Most nutrition experts and beverage analysts do not expect the tax to change consumers’ habits significantly; however, some experts highlighted the risk that facing a tight budget situation, the GOF may, in the future, extent such tax system to other food products.

TK: Argument number three. Everybody is doing it.  Bottom line, whether a "fat tax," "soda tax" or "chip tax" reduce consumption of junk food, such taxes can serve the purposes of public policy - including raising revenue and raising the profile of healthy food. Targeting junk food may  encourage greater consumption of fresh produce and allow government funding for nutrition education.

10:24 p.m. Steelers intercept Chiefs. Hope dies...

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