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France may levy special tax on junk food

To help fight obesity, the French government may introduce new taxes on fizzy drinks, crisps, ice cream and hamburgers.


A French official report has called for a new tax on sweet and fatty foods, sodas and alcohol in a bid to fight obesity, which already afflicts one in five French adults.

Drawn up jointly by the French tax and social affairs inspectorates, the report was handed to Budget Minister Eric Woerth and his counterpart for health Roselyne Bachelot late last month, ministry officials said Tuesday.

According to Les Echos newspaper, it calls for the VAT sales tax rate to be lifted from 5.5 to 19.6 percent on all food stuffs considered "too rich, too sweet, too salty and which are not strictly necessary."

Pizzas, hamburgers and sandwiches would all be hit by the new rules, the paper said.

Excess weight and obesity are blamed for fuelling cardiovascular disease as well as certain types of cancer. The authors also advocate raising the tax on alcohol because of its link to certain types of cancer.

The report is to be made public in late August when it goes before the French parliament, but Woerth said a hike in the sales tax was "not on the agenda" at present.

A government source told Les Echos there would be no new food tax in the 2008-2009 budget, in the light of the hike in global food prices that has put pressure on lower-income French households.

According to the paper, the report's authors acknowledge that "the least privileged populations, who eat least well, could be most heavily penalised" by a junk food tax.

Two thirds of French men and half of all women aged 35 to 74 are thought to be overweight, according to a study released in June, while one fifth of all adults obese.

France has taken steps to combat obesity in children, with vending machines banned in schools since 2005, and Bachelot has called for an end to unhealthy food ads during children's television programming.

She has urged the industry to take volontary action to end such advertising, but warned the government will step in to legislate if it refuses.


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