Medical society opposes tax on fresh produce

Doctors argue that adding a 17 percent tax would cause serious, long-term harm to public health.

old woman shopping in shuk 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
old woman shopping in shuk 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
The Israel Society for Family Medicine on Tuesday issued a strong statement to the government opposing a levy of value-added tax (VAT) on fresh produce. The doctors argued that adding a 17 percent (or an eventual 18%, if it is raised) tax would cause serious, long-term harm to public health.
The society said that lower socioeconomic groups in the population would suffer most because they would not be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables, which are known to be a boon to health and reduce the risk of obesity and numerous chronic diseases.
Additionally, such a tax would affect the entire population, it said.
Professionals in the Finance Ministry have tried to cancel the VAT exemption on fresh produce for almost 20 years in order to increase government income, but the society notes that eating cheap food such as white sugar and flour, instead of nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, will eventually raise the cost of treating diseases by many times that.
The Treasury had recently issued the proposal of VAT on fresh produce as a trial balloon while Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Health Minister Yael German learn the ropes in their offices and the issues.
Prof. Shlomo Winker, chairman of the society, said that Israel grows and imports large amounts and varieties of fresh produce at reasonable prices. The Israeli diet includes large amounts of fruits and vegetables and is identified with the Mediterranean Diet, which is considered the best in the world for extending life and good health, he said. If priced out of the market, the backlash could be that Israelis will eat less fresh produce and will in turn be exposed to a higher risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and obesity.
In addition, other experts argue that such a law would be almost impossible to enforce in the open-air markets, where getting receipts is less common than in supermarkets.
Asked to comment, the Health Ministry said that German is busy day and night studying the issues and will soon comment on the VAT proposal.
Director-general of the ministry, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, voiced his opposition to VAT on fresh produce a few years ago, when the Treasury previously stated that it was on the list as a measure to increase state income.