Increasing cases of chronic non-communicable diseases in Barbados have prompted several calls for Barbadians to change their diets. But making the switch to a healthy diet has proven to be difficult, as many people simply cannot afford it.
Back in March, chairman of the Retail and Distribution Committee at the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Anthony Brancker, recognized the challenge that some individuals face in that area, when he told a consultation on healthy foods that the high cost was affecting individuals’ ability to maintain healthy diets.
“Diets high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains and lean proteins can help us maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic diseases. But for most of us, eating a healthy diet is not as simple as choosing to do it, as the cost of doing it is prohibitive,” Brancker acknowledged.
“If we are serious about developing a healthier society, Barbadians need better access to healthy affordable food. Duties and taxes on healthy food should be minimized where possible to encourage healthy choices,” he added.
Brancker said the current duty structure only addressed sugar products, while imported fruits attracted high duties.
This week, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler announced in Parliament that after consultation with health and other officials, the list of basic food items to be exempted from Value Added Tax (VAT) has been revised to include more fruits and vegetables, in a bid to allow more low income earners to eat healthy.
“So we put in things that we did not have in. For example, things like raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, which we are told by the nutritional experts, are high in antioxidants and can assist in healthier bloodlines in terms of lowering cholesterol and of course fighting cancer and those types of things,” Sinckler said.
He noted that while VAT is not levied on local agricultural produce, the tax is applied when such foods are imported due to a shortage. He announced however, that under the VAT Amendment Bill (2017), the tax will no longer apply to those imports.
“We said that we would look to see and work with the Ministry of Agriculture, the BAS and others to identify the down periods, how much is being brought in
. . . and we would allow those to be free of VAT so that a wider range of persons can have access to a wider range of fruits and vegetables and healthier foods,” Sinckler told the Lower House.
Regarding nutrition for infants, Sinckler recalled that it was once common practice for Barbadian parents to feed growing babies pureed vegetables and ground provisions. However imported, processed foods have become more popular.
“A lot of parents for convenience and cost trend more towards the canned stuff and the bottled stuff. The truth is a lot of that stuff is not entirely healthy. Some of it is made from genetically modified foods
. . . it has a lot of preservatives, and can have health effects.”
“The Ministry of Health feels that parents, especially young mothers, should do more breastfeeding because breast is best as the saying goes, and that they should not rely on too much of these [processed foods] to be feeding young babies,” Sinckler said.