Detroit 'fat tax' unworkable, claims food industry

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's plans to place a tax on fast food
has been dismissed as a cosmetic exercise to help cover the city's
budget deficit, writes Anthony Fletcher.

"The overall problem is that this is a city facing budgetery problems,"​ Andy Deloney, Michigan Restaurant Association's​ director of public affairs told​.

"We're not going to sit by and let the city go after just one part of one industry and ask us to pay more."

The City of Detroit though claims the proposal of a modest 2 percent fast-food tax - on top of the 6 percent state sales tax that already exists on restaurant meals - is a vital step to reducing obesity. Some 64 percent of US adults are currently either overweight or obese, and Detroit is one of the fattest cities in the country, according to Men's Health magazine.

Deloney however argues that the Mayor's proposals are simply unworkable.

"If this were a tax on every industry we would still be concerned, but we'd sit down and discuss it,"​ he said. But this hasn't happened.

"In any case, what is a fast food restaurant? You know one when you see one, but how do you put that in legislation? And what is considered to be a chain?"

Another problem for the City of Detroit is that unlike many other US states, there is a statewide sales tax. There is no local sales tax. Detroit would have to gain statewide approval in order to push through its proposals, and in doing so, would set a precedent for other cities in Michigan to go after.

"We think that there is a strong general lack of support about raising taxes for what is essentially a spending problem,"​ said Deloney. "But we are taking this seriously and are working to educate the legislators."

Other cities and states have special taxes on prepared food. But if approved, the Detroit tax would be the country's first to target fast-food outlets.

Whatever the outcome of this battle, it is clear that the US needs to take action in order to curb the dramatic increase in obesity. There has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States over the past 20 years - more than 64 percent of US adults are currently either overweight or obese, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Taking stock of such shocking figures, some believe that the City of Detroit's proposals are even too tame. "Forget Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's thin stab at wanting a 2-percent tax on fast food in Detroit,"​ said a recent editorial in the Detroit Free Press.

"Let's go whole hog and tax take-out food statewide - but by calories, not cost. A penny per 100 calories would probably do."

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