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|LAST YEAR THE DANISH GOVERNMENT scored a World first when it introduced a tax on all foods containing more than 2.3% of saturated fat. The levy, at the rate of 16 Danish krone (about £1.70) per kilogramme of fats used in the production process, was intended to shift diets away from butter, milk, pizzas, oils and pre-cooked foods with the aim of extending average life expectancy by three years. It had the effect of raising the price of a pack of butter by 30 pence, of a packet of crisps by 8 pence and of putting 13 pence on 500 grammes of mince although many producers opted for smaller packages instead. However it soon became apparent that the measure had achieved the difficult feat of uniting manufacturers, trade unions and health campaigners against it. Cross-border shopping by Danes in countries such as Germany, where shops put up notices announcing ‘No fat tax here!’, boomed. Industry estimated that it would lose about $22 million in sales while unions bemoaned around 2,400 job losses; pressure groups believed that the tax was not high enough to change the behaviour of consumers without||
||a reduction in the price of ‘healthy’ alternatives, The NNF and HK unions together with the Danish Chamber of Commerce placed a series of newspaper adverts calling for the tax to be scrapped as it had just increased sales in nearby countries and had only hit the poorest people. Now the Danish government has signalled that it will withdraw the law and abandon plans for a ‘sugar’ tax in the New Year. A spokesman for HK said ‘It seems the government has listened to our message… now we have the chance to avoid a tax that would otherwise have been very damaging for the industry and our members’ jobs’. The revenue from the tax, estimated at the equivalent of $160 million annually, will have to be replaced and the Danish political parties are discussing raising income tax to make up the loss. This may not be the end of food health taxes however: Hungary has a so-called ‘Hamburger tax’ and Israel and Finland are thought to be considering new measures. Even in the U.K., where the obesity rate is double that in Denmark, Prime Minister Cameron has said that ‘a fat tax is something we should look at’.|
Butter on sale in Copenhagen
A SURVEY BY THE EUROPEAN DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION (EDA) has found the highest rate of diagnosis of depression among workers to be in the UK. Britain came top of the seven countries reported on with 26% of those responding having been identified as depressed at some time but this may be due to improved awareness. According to Emer O'Neill of the charity Depression Alliance: ‘We've got much better over the last six or seven years in this country at identifying depression’. Of these 58% had taken time off for an average of 41 days although employees in Denmark and Germany were slightly more likely to go on sick leave. It is estimated that, across the EU in 2010, the cost of depression at work was €92 billion but this includes under-performance as well as absence from work. This is reflected in the survey results where one in four of those who said they suffered had not told their employer with one third of them fearing for their jobs. The symptoms of the condition were not very well understood with less than half correctly naming forgetfulness and indecision. Of the managers surveyed one in three reported that there was no formal support to help them deal with depressed workers.
Commenting on the results, British Labour MEP Stephen Hughes said, ‘Depression in the workplace is an employment and societal challenge that is causing serious damage and which requires attention and action from the European Union’ and recommended that it be included in the new European Commission Strategy for Health and Safety at Work.
Industriall came into existence in the Spring as three union confederations merged at European level (see issue 57). It has hit the ground running with a call to its members to police the new EU chemical law REACH. Companies using or importing more than one hundred tonnes of any individual substance must register it with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) by the end of May next year. However Industriall, which represents employees in metalworking and the garment industry, as well as miners and chemical workers, believes that many small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) are unaware of their responsibilities. Now they want members to check if their employer has registered all relevant chemicals and identified risk management measures to use them safely. Safety sheets must also be updated and information shared with other manufacturers and importers of the same substances. If companies do not comply, not only might workers be endangered but production lines could eventually be shut down by national authorities.