Scrapping tax on fruit and veg will be ‘complicated, costly and confusing’

Seasonal fruit and veg in eco-friendly reusable bags. Photo:
Seasonal fruit and veg in eco-friendly reusable bags. Photo:

Scrapping value added tax (btw) on fruit and vegetables would be complicated, legally difficult and have little effect, according to research carried out on behalf of the government.

Slashing the tax rate from 9% to zero would only encourage 4% of consumers to buy more and people on high incomes, who currently buy more fruit and veg anyway, would benefit most from the tax cut, the report by economic research bureau SEO said.

In addition, the cost of the move to the treasury will be between €500 million and €1 billion, depending on what counts as fruit and veg, the report said.

Alternative methods to encourage healthier eating, such as the introduction of a sugar tax, limits to the availability of unhealthy food (such as vending machines with sweets in schools) and advertising controls may have a bigger effect on health and less financial impact.

The researchers looked at seven different definitions of what could fall under ‘fruit and vegetables’ – including unprocessed, raw products and processed food – and concluded that all could lead to producers, supermarkets and consumers heading for court.

Monitoring the rules would also be extremely difficult for the tax office, which is already suffering from IT problems and staff shortages, the report said.

The plan to scrap btw on fruit and veg was included in the current coalition agreement with the aim of encouraging people to eat more healthily. Junior health minister Maarten van Ooijen and tax minister Marnix van Rij say they will now study the research in detail and come up with answers before the summer.

More fruit and veg

Research published by public health institute RIVM earlier this year said the Dutch diet is improving slightly but most people still don’t adhere to the official health eating guidelines.

In particular, people are eating more vegetables and fruit, unsalted nuts and pulses as well as less red and processed meat,  and both adults and children are also consuming fewer sugary drinks.

Nevertheless, just 27% of the population eat the recommended amount of veg and 19% the recommended level of fruit.

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