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Romania row over junk food tax

16th February 2010

In order to stop obesity from spreading, Romanian legislators are making a bid for a comprehensive junk food tax.

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According to the country's health ministry, one in two Romanians are overweight, and obesity doubled in just four years.

The reason may have to do with the country's food culture, where dishes tend to have a high fat content.

In recent years, however, fast food restaurants such as McDonalds have become increasingly popular in Romania.

Adrian Streinu-Cercel, secretary of state for the health ministry, said that he felt Romanians needed to be re-educated on how to feed themselves properly.

Dragos Frumosu, head of the industrial food producers union, disagreed, and said that Romanians ate badly because they were poor.

While the government wants to begin taxing fast food within the next few weeks, they have not yet voted on a list of foods that will be taxed.

Oxford scientist Dushy Clarke, whose research concentrates on the impact of health-related taxes, said that such a tax would be the widest-ranging singular tax of its kind, and would also be the first of its kind to go straight to producers and importers of junk food.

He said that junk food taxes in other countries usually concern sweets and sugary drinks, and that Romania's tax was different in that it also taxed savoury foods.

Taiwan and France are among the list of countries which have also considered adopting their own junk food taxes.

However, the effort to tax junk food in France has long since been shelved.

The World Health Organization's 2004 Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health suggests that countries consider ways of pricing food that encourage healthy eating.

However, any attempt to turn Romanians away from fatty foods may actually encourage them to see fast food and junk food as something desirable.

Gheorghe Mencinicopschi, director of the Research Nutrition Institute, said that all restrictive measures can have the opposite effect if they are not accompanied by an education campaign.

He said that after sugary drinks were banned from schools, parents children began to buy the same things from other sources.


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