The adverse health effects of sugary food and drinks are a concern to lawmakers in Finland.
The adverse health effects of sugary food and drinks are a concern to lawmakers in Finland.

Finland is moving ahead with its plan to levy a tax on sugary foods and beverages despite fierce opposition from the Finnish Food and Drinks Industries' Federation (ETL).

The Social Affairs and Health Committee of the Finnish Parliament announced yesterday its unanimous support for designing a new health-based tax on foods and beverages, demanding that the preparatory legislative work be started without delay.

“Studies indicate that the excess consumption of sugary beverages, in particular, increases body weight and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It has been estimated that the adverse effects of sugary drinks are a consequence of how easy it is to consume them excessively,” it states in a report drawn up for the Parliament's Finance Committee.

The tax is under consideration as a means to offset the financial effects of a ruling delivered by the European Commission that obliges the country to scrap its current tax on sweets and ice cream on grounds that the tax unfairly favours domestic producers.

Petteri Orpo (NCP), the Minister of Finance, has expressed his support for the sugar tax but also acknowledged the challenges associated with its implementation.

“If there's a way to do it, I'm all for it. It'd have a fiscal effect and it'd be a good tax. It's a Pigouvian tax with clear health effects provided that we can get it to work […] I've asked the ministry to explore the options further,” he said in an interview with Demokraatti on Tuesday.

ETL contrastively believes the challenges associated with the implementation are insurmountable.

“Not a single EU country has a sugar tax – and for a good reason: [the tax] is judicially, technically and economically infeasible,” says Heli Tammivuori, a director at ETL.

She describes the sugar tax as a cork that re-surfaces regularly.

“The possibility of introducing a sugar tax was previously explored in 2012–2013, as a diverse group of officials evaluated a variety of possible sugar tax schemes. All of the schemes evaluated were technically difficult to implement and dubious, to say the least, from a legal viewpoint,” she argues in a press release.

Nor could any of the schemes guarantee a decrease in sugar consumption, according to Tammivuori.

Supporters of the tax have estimated that the implementation is possible following the adoption of new new food labelling regulations by the European Union. ETL, meanwhile, insists that distinguishing between products with natural and products with added sugar will remain difficult regardless of the new regulations.

“If the tax was levied on the sugar contents of products irrespective of the product in question, food with natural sugar, such as fruit and berries, […] would also fall under the scope of the tax. Drawing a line between foods with natural sugar and foods with added sugar is very complicated, if not impossible,” it states.

Tammivuori stresses that the industry appreciates the concerns about sugar consumption but has to reduce the amount of sugar in foods and beverages gradually in order not to hurt sales.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Milla Takala – Lehtikuva
Source: Uusi Suomi