Junk Food Tax Goes Before Knesset Committee

Portrait of Health Minister, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, at his office in the Health Ministry, Jerusalem, on April 13, 2016. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ôåøèøè ùø äáøéàåú éò÷á ìéöîï îùøã äáøéàåú éäãåú äúåøä
Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, at his office in the Health Ministry, Yerushalayim. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman intends to follow through on his announced strategy to limit the impact of junk food on Israelis, and to that end he recently held a special discussion with the Knesset Regulatory Commission to institute a special tax on items that could be classified as less than ideally nutritious.

No decisions have been made yet, but the health minister is pushing for some – either an excise tax on food that does not meet criteria, or a tax credit for companies that produce nutritionally sound snacks, or a combination of the two. According to Dr. Ronit Andwelt, head of nutritional research at the Ministry, “Research clearly shows that fast food and other less nutritious snack foods leads to obesity, diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, and more. Fast food consumption among children leads to poor eating habits and causes them to make poor nutritional choices in the future, and to eschew healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

If such taxes are implemented, Israel would be following a path paved by other countries such as Denmark, France, Austria, and the U.K., all of which tax either soft drinks, fast food, or snack foods to some extent. The tax money in Israel, as in other countries, would be used to implement programs which would encourage healthier eating and increased physical activity among children and adults, the Ministry said.

According to statistics supplied by the Central Bureau of Statistics and analyzed by the Ministry, 44 percent of Israelis – nearly one out of two – are overweight or obese, and the same is true of 21 percent of first graders. By seventh grade, 30 percent of kids are overweight.

Among the other initiatives the Ministry is considering, beyond taxation, is labeling – cigarette pack-style – packages of snack food to emphasize their calorie and fat level, along with a “health score,” to be determined by professionals, which will rank food products on a scale between 1 and 10 (or 1 and 100) on its desirability. The healthier a food – taking into account its nutrient level, calorie count, fat, sugar and salt – the higher a score it will get.

Like the labels on packages of cigarettes which make it clear to buyers that they could die from smoking, the idea of these labels is to make it clear to consumers that if they continue to eat junk food, they will get fat, said Professor Itamar Groto, head of public health at the Health Ministry. “Today the nutrition and ingredient labels do not provide an adequate indication of the desirability of a product,” he said. “We propose a clear, user-friendly labeling procedure to ensure that consumers can easily understand the nature of the product they are bringing home.”