The new Dutch government has just climbed into the saddle. One of its plans is to raise the lower VAT rate, which applies to food among other things. Much has been written in the media about a letter to the cabinet from several interest groups which argue for exempting fruit and vegetables from the VAT hike.
The letter was the initiative of fruit and vegetable growers but – according to the media – was also signed by Ingrid Steenhuis, professor of Prevention and Public Health at VU Amsterdam and Wageningen University. The food watchdog Foodwatch is supporting the campaign with a petition which has been signed nearly 58,000 times to date.
Now as a PhD candidate in the field of Nutrition, I am all in favour of initiatives that promote a healthy diet, but I do think this campaign is purely symbolic. On its website Foodwatch claims that a Mars bar costs 36 cents and an apple 59 cents. The organization calls on the government to make fruit and veg VAT-free. ‘Because an apple that is cheaper than a Mars bar – that would be a healthy food policy in practice!’
The VAT on an apple is just over 3 cents. Frankly, that won’t stop anyone eating a Mars bar. And ironically enough, that apple still won’t be cheaper than a Mars bar even if the Foodwatch plan is implemented.
If you ask me, there is little scientific evidence that a reduction of a few cents will prompt consumers to eat fewer unhealthy snacks and more apples. Next time I hope Wageningen will only sign up to campaigns that aim higher.