Experts call to tax ultra-processed foods to curb diseases

ultra-processed foods

ISLAMABA/MURREE: Diet-related risk factors have emerged as significant threats to the health of Pakistanis, with high consumption of ultra-processed foods identified as a major contributor to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and other non-communicable diseases.

In response to this growing health concern, health experts and civil society representatives have urged the government to implement immediate policy measures, including imposing excise duty on ultra-processed foods.

They said that the revenue generated from these taxes should be dedicated to promoting public health and subsidizing essential foods like fruits, vegetables, and lentils.

During a media workshop organized by the Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) in Murree, experts emphasized the urgent need for action.

Munawar Hussain, Country Coordinator at Global Health Advocacy Incubator, highlighted the alarming increase in heart diseases, stroke, and diabetes in Pakistan. He emphasized the government’s responsibility to enact life-saving policies, proposing the imposition of federal excise duty on ultra-processed foods, particularly sweetened drinks, as an evidence-based strategy to combat chronic diseases.

Ultra-processed foods encompass a range of products subjected to extensive processing, often involving industrial methods and the addition of various ingredients to enhance taste. Examples include sugary drinks, dairy desserts, biscuits, chocolates, sweet and salty snacks, potato chips, candies, pastas, noodles, and baked goods.

Afshan Tehseen Bajwa, the former chairperson of the National Commission on the Rights of Child and Vice President PANAH, highlighted the affordability issue, noting that ultra-processed foods are cheaper than healthier alternatives like fruits and vegetables. She advocated for taxing ultra-processed foods to increase their price, reduce consumption, and, crucially, to use the collected revenue to subsidize nutritious options for low-income groups.

Dr Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, National Coordinator Nutrition and NFA at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation, and Coordination, expressed the Ministry of Health’s full support for policy measures aimed at reducing the consumption of ultra-processed foods. He called for increased taxes on sugary drinks and the inclusion of ultra-processed products high in sugar, salt, and fats in the excise duty list.

Sanaullah Ghumman, spokesperson for PANAH, highlighted the organization’s longstanding efforts in creating awareness about healthy eating habits. He urged the media to play a vital role in conveying messages to policymakers and called on the government to raise excise taxes on sugary drinks and include ultra-processed foods in the excise duty list, preferably in the upcoming Finance Bill 2024-25.

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