Junk Food Taxes: Go Big or Go Home


In Washington (state) there was a small tax on candy and soda, even “bottled water and some processed foods,” which was rolled back by about a 2 to 1 margin Tuesday. Opponents of the tax, who claimed it would “hurt business” in the state (which is running a huge deficit, so business must be hurting already – though Bill Gates is doing fine, thank you very much), outspent the tax’s supporters by 17 to 1, spending more than $16million to beat it down. It would have raised about $100 million a year, not bad except when you consider that the budget shortfall is $4 billion.

For these kinds of taxes to be successful, they’re going to have to be bigger, not smaller, and seen not only as a novel way to raise new revenues (obviously, they’re not an easy way to raise new revenues) but as political acts designed to bring the price of junk food to a level of what it really costs us to produce and eat it. A more politically correct and perhaps more consumer-friendly way to do this would be to tax profits and let the manufacturers raise the prices, but no doubt this would “hurt business” in the state also, and not hurting business is evidently the top priority. At least if you can outspend the less business-friendly voices by 17 to 1.

(Photo Credit: Steve Hopson via Flickr)


Posted in Food Politics


  1. MomBug said...

    What none of the national news media seemed to mention was that the tax was very uneven. It depended on the ingredients whether it was taxable or not. A computer program was needed to keep track of what was or wasn’t taxed.And I am sorry to say, the Washington legislature was only looking for money. Lip service was paid to health benefits but it was really the money. Washington voters are not as stupid as some seem to think and have a long history of opposing unfair taxes and laws.

  2. Jean Layton said...

    The tax was complicated without any true boundaries. If the product had wheat in it, then no matter how high the sugar content, it was exempt from the tax.Fairly healthy snack bars without wheat were taxed but Kit Kat’s weren’t.I think if the tax was written simply, it would pass. Tax anything that has more than 10 carbs per bar/package. Place those taxes in a dedicated fund for preventative health care education and programs.And if they truly wanted to raise some money, why not just install a bottle deposit for all those water bottles. We are one of the greenest states but you can’t tell by the roadside.

  3. ZAThomas said...

    Considering our tax dollars already go toward the corn and soy subsidies that make junk food cheap in the first place, it seems weird to me to tax consumers again to make up the difference.Why can’t we stop the subsidies, restore junk food to what it ought it cost, and put the dollars to better use? I fear the answer is that the food industry lobby is more powerful than anyone’s interest in the common good.

  4. Ed Filippini said...

    What on earth is Mr. Bittman trying to say with his snarky remark about Bill Gates? I have no idea and don’t see how it has anything remotely to do with the referendum referred to. To think a government should wish to tax different foods at different rates, because it figures it knows better than the citizens, is insulting.

  5. vadoug said...

    The people have spoken, in overwhelming numbers. They are going to eat what they like, whatever their Ivy League Betters might think the "total cost" of their freedom may be. The Nanny State needs more and bigger thumpings of this sort.

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