Health Minister: ‘Sugar Tax’ Not on the Agenda

YERUSHALAYIM -
An employee arranges cereal boxes for sale at a supermarket in Yerushalayim. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
An employee arranges cereal boxes for sale at a supermarket in Yerushalayim. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

At a presentation in Tel Aviv last week, food manufacturers were concerned that Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman would impose taxes on junk food and on products high in sugar as part of his efforts to convince manufacturers to produce healthier foods. But in an interview, Minister Rabbi Litzman said he had no such plans. “Imposing taxes will just make the cost of living higher, and I would never agree to do something like that.”

That would be beside the point, as well. “The objective here is to increase awareness among the public about the damage salty and sweet snacks cause them. In order to accomplish that I am considering a number of steps,” but taxes are not one of them.

Rabbi Litzman said that among the biggest “victims” of junk food was the chareidi public. Children are often “treated’ to snacks at Talmud Torahs or shuls after they participate in learning sessions, and that practice needs to stop, or at least to be adjusted in order to prompt children to eat healthier. “Just this week I took away from my grandson a giant snack that was 100 percent sugar. I am worried about this not just as Health Minister but as a grandfather.”

Last week, Rabbi Litzman said that he plans to replace subsidies on white bread with subsidies on whole-wheat bread and flour. “We may institute price supervision of whole-wheat bread. If I see that the supermarkets are charging too much, I may want to put these products under supervision,” and subsidize them as well,” he said.

To pay for that, Minister Rabbi Litzman may remove subsidies from “white” bread, which is made of bleached, processed, wheat flour. “We may remove subsidies from white bread, and subsidize only black bread,” he said, pointing out that doctors and nutritionists have in recent years slammed white flour as “empty” calories with a very low level of nutrients. “Our objective needs to be making whole-wheat flour and bread cheaper, and white bread and flour more expensive. Anyone who wants white bread can pay for it out of pocket.”