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Taxing hamburgers

June 7th, 2011

Hungary will regulate fast food restaurants, if the Parliament in Budapest passes the bill tabled by János Lázár, the Fidesz floor leader. According to the text of the draft, restaurants offering unhealthy foods with a high fat and sugar content would have to build playgrounds nearby in return, and could only offer kids’ menus with toy presents, if they have a reduced fat content.

„We are not great fans of fast food but that does not make the Fidesz struggle to regulate every square inch of life any more attractive” – comments the left-leaning daily, Népszabadság, adding: „Maybe they should place more trust in people’s common sense and in their taste buds, and let them decide what kind of food they let their children eat, and what they eat themselves.”

Should the proposal pass into law, fast food restaurants would have to list the calorie content, and all other values (like sodium and fat content) on the packaging. The proposal would reduce the use of trans fats and other sources of cholesterol.

The Strategic Alliance for Hungarian Hospitals came up with a similar idea last year, for a HUF 10 tax on each bottle or packet of unhealthy products sold in Hungary (including chips, hamburgers and soft drinks). Secretary of state for health Miklós Szócska told the press last week that such a “hamburger tax” is being seriously pondered and that the income generated would be spent on improving conditions in the National Health Service.

Last year in Romania, the government quietly abandoned a similar proposal to tax fast-foods, after running into a wall of opposition from the manufacturers, and the public.

Blogs also heavily criticize the proposal. Malackaraj.blog.hu (Pork chop) on Index compared the amount of nutritional information provided by fast food chains like McDonalds with information on unregulated school meals.

„While [the use of trans fats] is not regulated it’s not hard to imagine the outcome, but trans fat is cheaper than non-trans” – the blog points out.

„It’s safe to bang on open doors, simpler and safer than stirring up the school meal issue, where these problems are more real. But by doing so, no-one would get more popular, or wealthier, but the kids would certainly get healthier” – writes Malackaraj.

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