Health advocates have called for a tax on fast food in Ireland to combat obesity

The Irish Heart Foundation’s Chris Macey said take-away fast food should be taxed at the highest rate of VAT. He said it didn’t make sense to tax sugary drinks as a health measure and not fast food.

Macey’s comments were in response to a revelation on RTÉ’s This Week program that hot takeaway food receives a special 9% VAT rate, which was introduced in 2011 to boost the Irish hospitality sector.

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"We would say that this rate should not just go back to 13.5% for hot takeaway food. It should be taxed at the highest rate,” said Macey.

"Defibrillators that save people’s lives are taxed at the highest rate, yet we have a situation where hot takeaway food that is contributing to the biggest health crisis in the history of the State is taxed at a low rate."

Baby eating fries. Credit: iStock

Baby eating fries. Credit: iStock

Speaking on the same program, Dr. Donal O'Shea, the HSE’s clinical lead on obesity, said that one in four Irish adults are now obese, and in some disadvantaged areas, 12 percent of three-year-olds were obese.

Dr. O’Shea linked the obesity statistics to the consumption of fast food and said fiscal measures to encourage healthy behavior work better than public health campaigns.

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However, Breen Cassidy, tax partner with EY, said it was not possible to separate out take-away from other restaurants when it comes to European VAT rates.

"From a health perspective, there is nothing in VAT legislation at European level, and consequently at Irish level, which allows you to differentiate VAT rates on health grounds."

Should fast-food be taxed? Should other countries follow suit to combat rising weight gain? Let us know in the comments section below.