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Finland: Government studying measures to promote fruit and veg consumption

The suicide tax was abolished early in the year and new tax decisions will aim to lead Finns in the right direction when it comes to eating habits. An alternative is to tighten the taxation of unhealthy foods while relieving it for healthy foods; another is to introduce warnings on unhealthy products.

"VAT could be reduced to zero for healthy foods like fruits and vegetables," says Sebastian Hielm, Food Safety Director at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

At this stage, he does not wish to go into detail about what products the tax increases would apply to, but it could be for example for sodas, chips and confectionery products.

However, this reform could be politically inconvenient. The tax increases would likely affect low income people who often have no alternative but to eat cheap and hence often unhealthy foods.

"At the same time, there would be a tax relief for the wealthy who go to the gym and eat avocados. But it's about finding the right balance," he said.

Warning texts in Peru and Chile
Another option is to use warning texts or tags on unhealthy products. Peru and Chile have recently introduced warnings and Canada will soon follow in their tracks. For its part, Finland is waiting to have more information on how well the warning texts work.

"It may happen that they are a more effective method than higher prices," said Hielm.

The study will start next year with several ministries participating in the project. Hielm's assessment is that it will take 2-3 years before the law changes can come into force.

The industry does not agree
The food industry believes that consumer habits should preferably be governed differently than by new laws. The concern is that new regulations may have a negative impact on competition. Moreover, an excise duty on added sugar is difficult to enforce. This was already noted in 2013 by the working party investigating sugar taxation, says Heli Tammivuori, Director at the Food Industry Association.

In that case, it is better to make changes to the VAT. But making the distinction between healthy and unhealthy foods is not always easy.


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