(Host) There’s a new idea in the Statehouse for raising millions of dollars – and maybe even cutting down on obesity.
Some legislators want to tax what they describe as "non-nutritional" food. The money would help pay for health care programs.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Barre Rep. Paul Poirier is one of the lead supporters of the plan that he describes as "an assessment on low nutritional foods." Several years ago this proposal was called a junk food tax but Poirier says this new approach is different.
He wants to target all foods that are low in nutritional value because he thinks these foods play a large role in driving up Vermont’s health care costs:
(Poirier) "We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars fighting complications of obesity, diabetes and chronic heart disease – that’s what’s driving up our health care costs. And so part of our feeling is that there are numerous products that are sold as food that have absolutely no nutritional value."
(Kinzel) So how do you tell a food that has low nutritional value from one that has a high value?
Poirier says the answer is quite simple. He says a number of supermarket chains in Vermont now identify all their food products based on a nutritional scale. Poirier says that information is readily available on the products’ bar code:
(Poirier) "Working with them, we’ll establish a threshold. And all this information is on that little bar graph, that every time you buy something it’s there. This is not a bureaucratic – they run it through the scanner and it identifies it as a non nutritional product."
(Kinzel) Jim Harrison is the executive director of the Vermont Grocers Association. He says the plan would be difficult to administer, would not change the eating habits of the public and smacks of big government:
(Harrison) "I think we just have to be very, very careful if we go down that road that we’re setting up a system of discrimination and that somehow big brother or state government knows best and we’re going to try to influence what is best by our taxing policy."
(Kinzel) Jericho Rep. George Till is working with Rep. Poirier on this plan. Till is a doctor and says the intent of the bill is not to ban any food:
(Till) "We’re not telling people what they can eat and what they can’t eat. But what we’re saying is, ‘you have a level of personal responsibility, that if are going to eat badly and become significantly overweight have heart disease, have diabetes and increased health care costs you should be paying part of that.’ And this is one way to help with that."
(Kinzel) Backers of the bill are hoping that their plan will gain additional support as an alternative to making deep cuts in the state’s health care budget.
For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.