Not worth its salt!

Government’s planned introduction of a salt tax appears to have been put on ice. 

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Arthur Phillips revealed yesterday that a report had been submitted to policymakers stating that unlike the sugar tax, a tax on salt “would not be effective”. 

“The level of consumption of salt is an important factor in terms of contributing to high blood pressure, which is one of the leading drivers of illness and death. In terms of the salt tax, this is something that was raised as a potential consideration and the Ministry of Health was asked to submit documentation in terms of a position and recommendation.

“We have since done that, and our view is that there is limited evidence of the potential effectiveness of a salt tax in our current setting,” Phillips said. 

“We feel that a tax on salt will not have a major effect at this time and that is what we would have indicated to the policymakers.”

He told the DAILY NATION the ministry was instead recommending a holistic approach, which involves public awareness, labelling as well as other drivers of salt consumption. 

During her Budget in 2022, Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley announced a sodium tax was imminent to address the chronic use of high levels of salt among the Barbados population. She disclosed that a committee was established to draft the proposal. 

In that same address, Mottley announced that the tax on sugar-sweetened beverages was raised from ten to 20 per cent. 

Both decisions were the subject of some concern for Barbadian manufacturers. In a statement that year, the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association noted that these taxes could have a dampening effect on investment. 

When asked to clarify why a tax would be effective for one non-communicable disease-causing substance and not the other, Phillips explained that salt is used in a wider range of products. Coupled with the low price point, he noted that the design of a yardstick to determine a rate of taxation was not easy. 

“With sugar-sweetened beverages you have a defined set of products that are relatively easy to identify and to tax in terms of their tariff codes for importation. Salt is consumed in products, it is a very cheap item, so it presents in a wide variety of areas. The literature, unfortunately, makes it clear that it is not an easy measure to design and implement a tax for, and it is not as effective,” he said. 

As it relates to the increased tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, Phillips said his office was gathering data to determine its effectiveness. However, he expressed confidence, based on initial reports, that the tax had resulted in reduced consumption of these items. 

“There is evidence from the ten per cent tax, there is evidence from international literature. In terms of the 20 per cent tax, we are actually in the process of doing an evaluation. We are replicating the evaluation that would have been done for the ten per cent tax.

“We are also in partnership with the University of the West Indies and the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Evaluation Committee, looking at some wider aspects of evaluation where they have done some health system modelling. We hope that very soon we would be able to share those results, but we do expect that our findings will be in line with the existing literature and our experience thus far, which is that taxes can affect behaviour,” he added.

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