There will be no “fat tax” imposed on Barbadians in the immediate future, with Minister of Health John Boyce suggesting today the idea is in the distant past.
The issue became a major talking point when it was first suggested back in February at a Ministry of Health-organized town hall meeting on financing the country’s public health care system.
It was there that Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre (CDRC) at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies Dr Alafia Samuels was among those arguing strongly for Government to “tax the fat”.
Boyce had previously said a “fat tax” was not among his ministry’s policies.
However, the minister went further today, stopping just short of all but ruling out the idea completely, saying there was already a tax on aerated drinks.
“We have already put a small tax on sweetened beverages,” Boyce said, referring to the ten per cent excise announced during the presentation of the 2015/2016 budget on locally produced and imported sweetened beverages, such as carbonated soft drinks, juice drinks, sports drinks and fruits juices.
“As to what would happen in the future in that area, we would have to look at all the impacts before we make a decision like that,” he told Barbados TODAY in a brief interview after delivering the feature address at 16th Annual Professor E R Walrond Scientific Symposium at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital auditorium.
The annual symposium highlights common goals in pursuit of medical excellence and was described by the minister as a testament to Walrond’s pioneering work in medicine and medical research.
In his speech, the minister revisited the troubling issue of non communicable diseases, which he said accounted for more than 51 per cent of deaths here, “including sudden deaths” – a reference to a recent spate of sudden deaths – some of them publicly – among people of varying age groups.
“The Ministry of Health encourages Barbadians to recognize that excessive salt and sugar contributes to the development of non communicable diseases and we want to encourage them to adopt healthy lifestyles,” Boyce said.
The “fat tax” recommendation provoked much criticism of the protagonists by the Barbadian public, who complained at the time they were already over-taxed.
This led Dr Samuel to issue a “clear the air” statement in late February in which she stressed that she was “totally against a tax of fat people”, adding it would be “totally inequitable, ridiculous and impractical”.
Dr Samuels added that imposing such a levy on Barbadians was also not the view of her professional colleagues at the CDRC or the UWI Public Health Group in the Faculty of Medical Sciences.
She explained then that what she was recommending was a tax on unhealthy fatty foods, similar to the tax imposed on sweetened beverages to try to reduce consumption of sugar.
“This tax revenue should be used to subsidize healthy foods, making healthy foods cheaper and unhealthy foods more expensive.
“These recommendations are in line with internationally endorsed guidance, such as from the World Health Organization,” the CDRC Director wrote at the time.