The so-called “junk food law” finally went into effect this month after years of lobbying, and a fee will be phased in over the next few years. An additional tax of 10% will be placed on the impacted foods immediately, with that rate increasing to 15% the following year and reaching 20% in 2025.
Campaigners and health experts have praised a recently passed law in Colombia that makes the nation one of the first in the world to specifically tax ultra-processed foods. They believe that this law could serve as an example for other nations to follow.
“Countries around the world have been implementing health taxes, for example by taxing tobacco or sugary drinks, but few have extended them to processed foods,” said Franco Sassi, an international health policy and economics professor at London’s Imperial College Business School. “Few have extended them to alcohol as well,” Sassi added. “Colombia’s model is more expansive than what we have seen before and could serve as an example to other countries,” said one researcher.
The tax is directed on ultra-processed foodstuffs, which include industrially manufactured ready-to-eat foods, as well as products that are rich in salt and saturated fat, such as chocolates and crisps. Sassi stated that certain concessions had been made with the food industry, such as exempting certain processed items, such sausages, from the levy. Other issues remained unresolved.
Because of the high sodium content of the Colombian diet, which has been linked to an increase in the incidence of cardiovascular disorders including strokes and heart failure, which are responsible for 1 quarter of deaths each year, the government has taken steps to reduce sodium intake. The typical daily consumption of salt in Colombia is 12 grams, which is the highest rate in all of Latin America and is among the highest in the world. It’s estimated that close to one-third of persons in this country suffer from excessive blood pressure.
Other non-communicable diseases connected to nutrition and obesity, such as diabetes, are also problematic, with more than a third of fatalities attributed to diabetes happening among people under the age of 70.
According to some estimates, non-communicable diseases are to blame for 76% of all deaths that occur in Colombia.
According to Beatriz Champagne, executive director of the Coalition for Americas’ Health, a Latin American advocacy group, “We want to avoid following the path of rich industrialized nations like the United States, where diet-linked diseases are a big problem.” “We want to avoid following the path of rich industrialized nations like the United States,” “When it comes to their policies, Latin America is light years ahead of the rest of the world.”
Sassi stated, “What is remarkable about Colombia is that the tax policy is aligned with front-of-package labels. This makes Colombia a very attractive place to do business.” The government of the country has decided to follow the lead of its neighbors Ecuador and Peru and implement mandatory health warnings on meals that contain a significant amount of hazardous substances like sugar or saturated fat.
“The tax is applied to the same products that have the health warning label,” said Sassi. “The tax is applied to the same products.” “As a result, the consumer is presented with both an informational and a financial incentive to steer clear of these products.”
Activists claim that in the years preceding up to the passage of the law, they were greeted with vigorous opposition from the industries that produce food and beverages.
“Our team suffered all kinds of attacks and censorship prohibited in our country,” Esperanza Cerón Villaquirán from the organization Educar Consumidores, which has been advocating for health tax and product labeling since 2015, stated.
“We invested not just institutional but also personal effort in this endeavor. We never relaxed our vigilance, and we refused to give up.”
Cerón Villaquirán compared the several years of laborious effort that preceded the passage of the law to a “difficult birth” in his description of the process.
Those who oppose the proposed tax argue that it will make Colombia’s fight against inflation more difficult.
According to Sassi, “the crisis in the cost of living and the major contribution that food prices make to inflation mean that it is very difficult in most countries to talk about introducing new taxes.” “However, it is possible to work within the framework of existing taxes to create incentives, such as lowering the value-added tax (VAT) on healthier foods in order to subsidize increased taxation on options that are less healthy,”
Champagne stated that “ultimately, the goal of industrialized food production is not nutrition but rather making money.” “It means that producers don’t care if consumers eat food that will make them sick or cause them to die,” is a literal interpretation of what this phrase means.