European governments are resorting to an array of punitive “fat taxes” in an ill-conceived bid to stop people from putting on weight. The latest site of this authoritarian binge is Romania. Last week, Romanian Health Minister Attila Cseke (an apt first name) announced that his country will begin imposing a tax on fast food in March. When the scheduled tax goes into effect, Romania will have the dubious distinction of being the first nation to actually implement a fast-food tax. (The Taiwanese parliament plans to enact a similar law this year). And no doubt, American food-cop activists will be inspired to redouble their own efforts to save us from ourselves.
Romanian authorities insist the fast food tax is necessary because 25 percent of the population is considered obese. It’s unclear whether there’s a link between obesity and fast food in Eastern Europe, but there’s certainly none in the United States. We have noted that the prevalence of obesity is due to physical inactivity – and not to indulging in Extra Value Meals. A 2007 study published in the International Journal of Obesity concludes, “The obesity epidemic is often speculatively blamed on fast food, when the actual evidence shows very little, if any, association of fast food with weight gain.”
It’s hardly surprising that Romanian lawmakers believe they can legislative personal behavior. Such antics are par for the course in Europe. Denmark will soon begin taxing chocolates, ice cream and other sweets. These culinary tolls will join that country’s existing tax on soft drinks. Denmark has also passed a law drastically restricting trans fats while Spain is seeking to ban “excessive” trans fats—whatever that means—later this year. Austria introduced a similar law in October. And in Germany, one Green Party leader wants to make it illegal to advertise sweets to children 12 and younger.
American busybodies are not far behind. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is on an anti-salt crusade, even though our bodies naturally regulate our sodium intake. Yesterday he actually compared salt to cancer-causing asbestos, saying that “salt and asbestos, clearly are both bad for you…Modern medicine thinks you shouldn’t be eating salt, or sodium.”
This, of course, is demagogic nonsense. And if “food cops” see flavoring food as a crime against public health, it is only a matter of time before they start demanding to regulate your salt shaker.
In the meantime, New York City chefs are furious with Bloomberg. “You need salt to draw flavor out of food,” chef David Chang told the New York Post. “It’s a skill that you teach cooks. For that to be regulated by the government is just stupid and foolish.”