Let Them Eat Cake . . . And Pay Taxes: France Government Proposes “Nutella” Tax

If Arnhem was the “bridge too far” for General Montgomery, Nutella may be a tax too far for President François Hollande. I have been admittedly critical of the massive tax increase by the Hollande government on the top earners in France. I just do not believe it makes economic sense. However, the latest tax is not simply designed to acquire more revenue but to fight the fat in France — part of a trend inside and outside the United States. The French Senate tripled the tax on palm and some other vegetable oils — a move that will significantly raise the cost of such French favorites like Nutella.


Nutella itself has defied the move and said that it would not change its recipe. Most French would sooner change Versailles into a duplex than change Nutella.

I strongly oppose these fat taxes and measures like the large soda ban in New York. We clearly do need to fight obesity in society. However, individuals should not be denied choice or penalized financially for not yielding to the demands of their government about what they eat or cook.

The appearance of a fat tax in France is particularly bizarre. Paris rests on a bedrock of marzipan and spun sugar. This is like the Italian tripling a pasta tax. Paris is one of the great food centers of the world and perhaps the greatest in history. Indeed, we have a LuLu poster in our kitchen from one of our fat-saturated trips to France. Had Marie Antoinette known that this was coming, she would have rushed to the guillotine at the Place de la Révolution.

Source: Washington Post

41 thoughts on “Let Them Eat Cake . . . And Pay Taxes: France Government Proposes “Nutella” Tax

  1. Taxation has always had a social component to it. It is used to encourage or discourage certain behaviors that might not be illegal but do have an impact on society. I know that will drive the libertarians nuts but there is a real need in a society as large, close and crowed as ours to encourage people to do things or discourage them from doing things that may be short-term easier/more fun/cheaper but long-term bad for that individual and the society they belong to. The question becomes where do we draw the lines.

    If Nuttella is more expensive people will eat less of it. Thats bad for Nuttella’s bottom line. If its bad enough they may review their choice not to alter their formula.

  2. MIght they not be doing this to collect more money, and just doing it where they’re sure people will pay it, instead of doing it to discourage obesity? I thought France was supposed to be a fairly healthy nation, and part of it was because of it’s natural fat usage (i.e. real butter). Leastways, I read a book once of someone who had lived there and done a diet developed around their eating style. But then, that was preNutella days!

  3. You mean the Italians don’t ALREADY have a pasta tax?

    That sounds to me like it might be an Italian joke.

    Do you know why they no longer have any ice in Italy? Because the old woman who had the recipe died.

  4. Frankly:

    You’re damned right it drives the libertarians nuts, as does your presumptive attitude that you have the moral superiority to make personal decisions for other people.
    What you probably perceive as your big picture philosophy about society and what is good for it, comes from the small minded perspective that your personal worldview is actually what represents the real world, and
    because you esteem your own opinion so highly about other people’s habits, that your decision (and others like you) must be the true one.

    That is a slippery slope, because everyone thinks they know better about what is good for others to do; the truly mature and self-disciplined approach is to keep hands off of other people’s lives, personal choices and decisions, regardless of what one’s own morals are.

  5. Unless an ingredient is prime facie toxic in doses found in the products or somehow damaging to the environment in a substantive manner?

    Government should find something better to do.

    This is busybody nonsense.

  6. It really boils down to taxation without representation. It needs to be put to a vote of the Fatfraulein Caucus from the Rhineland. This is a group of legislators from around Culmar who get together over dinner and decide how to vote as a group. They are clearly visible during the long evening dinner hours at an outdoor cafe near the Parliament in Paris.

  7. I had no idea what nutella was. What I found on the Nutella USA site:

    “Nutella is a delicious hazelnut spread that contains quality ingredients, such as skim milk and a hint of cocoa, that moms can serve as part of a balanced breakfast.”

    It sounds like it should help everyone slim down. So what’s the big deal?

    Oh, yes, the tax. So what’s new? Aren’t there high taxes on gasoline and cigarettes and alcohol?

  8. At one time I kept it in the pantry, but then I looked at the amount of palm oil in it and threw it out. It is okay to eat occasionally but in some countries in Europe, they use it as regularly as the Irish use jam. My local authentic Italian pizzeria has a nutella pizza for desert. Nutella crepes are pretty good. Not really much of an obesity problem in France so maybe the tax is aimed at the palm oil industry.

  9. @Frankly: It [tax] is used to encourage or discourage certain behaviors that might not be illegal but do have an impact on society.

    If society believes a behavior affects it negatively (like, say, speeding) then society can get together and pass a law to outlaw that behavior and punish it, preferably with imprisonment or community service for some period of time (as opposed to fines, for reasons I will now relate).

    If society just taxes or fines a behavior, it forms a class society in which the rich do what they want but the poor cannot, for lack of money. Time, boredom, forced labor and interrupted plans may not affect everybody equally, but they are at least something the rich will fear more than a few extra percent in tax or a few hundred dollars in fines.

    I do not think it is just libertarians that reject the idea of the Nanny state deciding what is good for us and what is not; it is the entire idea of having the freedom to live your life as you wish. When it comes to medicine, many studies have shown time and again that medical “wisdom” has been wrong, especially on dietary guidelines (which are still misguided) and their definition of a “healthy weight,” which has been shown to be more unhealthy than packing an extra two points of BMI.

    The entire philosophy that adults need a parent is logically ridiculous, if we all need parents then any public official is equally in need of parenting and is not qualified to be my parent.

    We are all going to die sooner or later from something or other. My life is a finite resource, and although I believe I owe some of my resources to society to maintain and repeat the investments in infrastructure that past generations have made that have allowed me to thrive, I do not believe that government officials have any advantage in intelligence or morality to be my parent, control my diet, or workout, career choices or anything else.

    Government is tasked with the job of a servant like a bodyguard, it is their job to protect citizens from predation and harm by other people, foreign and domestic, not to protect people from themselves.

    Giving the government the power of a parent is a step in the direction of enslaving the populace and controlling all of their choices. It is immoral. It is not the job of the government to define some ideal level of physical activity, body mass index, work / play balance, mental states or belief system. Freedom is about the pursuit of happiness in your own way, as long as you pay your way and do not harm others. Government is there to ensure the latter, not define the former.

  10. Gary – when your personal choices affect society your damn right society should put their thumb on the scale. Obesity has social costs that we all bear with or without universal healthcare.

    I do not think that is moral superiority (though you seem to think it is) just smart use of resources. Nice way you assume lots of things about me that fit your narrow view of ‘reality’. As a matter of fact I am well aware that, at the moment, my world view is not that of that majority. We have this thing called democracy here & like it or not the majority of voters make decisions for us all the time. If the majority of voters decide something should have an additional cost or not have an additional cost they often make that happen. They are sometimes right & other times not. Morality has nothing to do with it, never has.

    I don’t assume I know whats best for everyone. I have ideas, just like you do, about how things should run and I will offer those ideas & allow them to be considered.

  11. Tony C said:
    “I do not think it is just libertarians that reject the idea of the Nanny state deciding what is good for us and what is not; it is the entire idea of having the freedom to live your life as you wish.”

    Tony, just about everything you said in your post is exactly a libertarian argument.
    As they say, you may be libertarian, and not even know it.

  12. “Government is tasked with the job of a servant like a bodyguard, it is their job to protect citizens from predation and harm by other people, foreign and domestic, not to protect people from themselves.”

    So on point it bears repeating, Tony.

    *****************

    Gary,

    Before you use the L word on me, there are some Libertarian principles that makes sense and are good ideas. There are some, especially the magical thinking about the “wisdom of the market” and the party’s stand on anti-discrimination laws and willingness to inject religion into policy, that are not just nonsense but dangerous nonsense.

  13. Far more likely to run into a real socialist in France than a libertarian. I find that preferable to the “freedom fries” crowd.

  14. @Gary: As I stated (and perhaps you overlooked) I do believe in supporting social programs, like welfare, social security, unemployment benefits, free vocational training, nationalized health care and massive government spending on infrastructure (for energy, communications, transportation of all kinds, schools, etc). I do not believe in free markets, I believe in regulated markets, because I think free markets are predatory and exploitive.

    But I do not believe in a nanny state. I believe the government can be a servant in all of these areas, the government can build roads and bridges without telling us how to live our lives; the government can finance energy research that will benefit everybody, the government can finance health research that will benefit everybody.

    As a servant, government can manage and direct communal action, at cost, that will benefit essentially everybody, and they can do that cheaper than any for-profit agency ever could. Essentially by definition; since their goal can be zero profit for anybody involved, and just covering costs.

    I believe in societies taking cooperative action without profit; I believe in a mix of socialism and capitalism. Libertarians tend to demand small government, I do not. I do not care how big or small government is, or how heavy or light taxes are. What I care about is the specifics of what government does, whether it benefits us all or just a few, whether it is fair, and so forth.

    It should be precisely as big as it needs to be to maximize its benefit.

    I think of that as an efficiency in engineering perspective. There is a job to be done by a part and it is designed to be as big and strong as it needs to be. Too little and it breaks; too much and it breaks something else or is just a waste of space and money.

  15. I’d like to know the reason behind it all.

    Is it health?

    Is it environmental?

    If it’s health, its ridiculous. I was in support of the soda ban, until I realized I’m against prohibition because it typically does not work and can make a singular problem issue a multi-problem issue.

    That being said, Palm Oil is one of the products that rainforest destruction can be attributed to as rain forests are slashed and burned to make way for the trees which produce the Palm fruit that the oil comes from…

    If they are saying we’re raising taxes on palm oil to help stop the destruction of the rain forest, I’m all for it…if just because it’s unhealthy, I am not.

  16. I gave up trying to label myself a long time ago.

    I think I’m a mix of SwM, Tony C., and Gene because I agree with two or three points each of them makes but not in 100% agreement with any of them.

    I don’t approve of this tax because I consider it over-reaching, intrusive, and an excellent example of specious governmental reasoning.

    On the other hand, it’s France, and thus none of my da*m business.

  17. “The proposed tax, which will be voted on next week, would translate to a 6 euro cent hike per kilo of Nutella, or 30 euro cents on giant 5 kg pots of Nutella most commonly used in restaurants and creperies across France.

    Palm oil is high in saturated fats which can lead to heart disease.

    In addition to being a health risk, the industrial use of palm oil has led to widespread deforestation in Borneo, Sumatra and Indonesia, displacing and killing endangered populations of orangutans.

    The proposed tax hike in France is the latest setback for the maker of the chocolate spread,Ferrero, which has also had to fork over millions of dollars in a class-action lawsuit for false advertising in the US where it was pitched as a nutritious breakfast food.

    A two-tablespoon serving of Nutella contains 200 calories, 11 grams of fat — 3.5 of which are saturated — and 21 grams of sugar.

    A typical chocolate and nut candy bar, meanwhile, has 250 to 300 calories and 12 to 16 grams of fat.” New York Daily News

  18. @Frankly: I do not think that is moral superiority … just smart use of resources.

    Why is that the government’s job?

    I will repeat, the government’s job is like that of a bodyguard. The bodyguard of a celebrity singer does not manage the career of the singer, pick their songs, direct their performance or tell them when to exercise or what to eat or to go to bed or stop drinking because they have a performance tomorrow.

    The bodyguard is not in charge. The bodyguard has a gun and is trained in the art of combat, but that does not put them in charge. The bodyguard is expected to risk and lose their life to protect their client, but that does not put them in charge or make them morally superior. Neither their superior fighting ability or the potential sacrifice of putting themselves in harm’s way justifies putting themselves in charge of their client.

    The government does not own us, we are not a resource for them to manage, we are their employer. Like the celebrity singer, if we want to get drunk and screw up our performance the next day, that is our decision, not the bodyguard’s decision. If we want to bake and eat butter cookies all day, that is not any of the bodyguard’s business either.

    It is not the government’s job to optimize our time, life span, or use of our resources, it is not their job to maximize our “progress” or our “efficiency” or our “productivity” by their own definitions of those words. They are servants, not owners or managers. It is our right to pursue happiness as we see fit, as long as we pay our fair share of expenses and do not harm others.

  19. @Swarthmore: If the French people believe the use of palm oil is wrong because of the harm it does others, they should ban the use of palm oil, period.

    I see no logical path from “It is wrong!” to “But not if you pay me enough money, then it is okay.”

    The government has no business “discouraging” acts by fining or taxation, such fines and taxes are inherently discriminatory based on wealth. Either something is wrong enough to be outlawed, or it is not, being allowed to pay a fee to engage in otherwise wrong behavior puts the law up for sale.

    The punishments meted out by government can be scaled to the severity of crimes, but that punishment should never be measured in dollars because that makes them inherently unfair.

  20. According to a recent study, How Obesity Threatens America’s Future, by 2030, “obesity rates for adults could reach or exceed 44 percent in every state and exceed 60 percent in 13 states.” This will translate into a tenfold increase in cases of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and arthritis by 2020, and that will double again by 2030. Total cost? According to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “The projected increase in obesity is estimated to cost the United States $500 billion in health spending between now and 2030.”

    But lets not do anything about this, it’ll correct itself, its not my problem, it won’t affect me.

  21. Today, Nutella® is the number one spread in Europe. In Germany, Nutella is a favorite breakfast spread and in both Italy and France it is a popular after-school snack. Worldwide, it outsells all peanut butter brands combined. Nearly three generations of Europeans have grown up eating Nutella, which was created in the 1940’s by Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero Company. If you think of the creamy chocolate inside a FerreroRocher candy, that’s a “lighter” version of Nutella.

    A year ago this month, a German court ordered Italian chocolate manufacturer, Ferrero, to change the labels on its popular chocolate product Nutella which indicate that it’s healthier than it actually is. The product’s nutritional value labels indicate the amount of fat and sugar in a 15-gram serving. However, the amount of vitamins and minerals said to be contained in the spread corresponds to a 100-gram serving. That’s a quarter of a jar. So, in order to get those important nutrients, you’ll have to also consume almost half of your daily fat intake.

    According to reports in Die Welt, Frankfurt’s Court of Appeals ordered the company to change its labels, threatening a fine of €250,000 ($338,000) for every future violation. Ferrero will appeal the decision, saying there is nothing wrong with its current labels, but it will also change Nutella’s packaging in the meantime. (http://www.businessinsider.com/nutella-healthy-germany-2011-11#ixzz2CJ8Lv3AI)

  22. @Swarthmore: I am against both the carbon tax and the cigarette tax. That does not mean I am against controlling carbon emissions or pro-smoking.

    I am against all “discouragement” taxes because I am against the government favoring the rich over the poor; and often at the expense of the poor if the rich can pass on the added costs to the poor. I find that an inherently unfair action by a government I want to treat all people equally, rich and poor.

    I am also against the implicit statement that some harmful activities are okay if your pockets are deep enough; I find that abhorrent, like selling the right to cause a few cancers and destroy a few lives. I do not care if it “works” or not, many things “work” and not all are fair. Criminals engage in crime because it “works,” Sexual slavery in the USA is only there because it “works.”

    Pollution literally kills people; allowing industry to engage in a fatal activity for a price is fundamentally immoral. If we want to control carbon emissions the solution is quite simple, set an achievable limit, a time period to get there, and then start putting people in jail for exceeding it, or trying to circumvent it by relocating overseas or buying from overseas. Pass a law that applies to everyone, not a price tag for getting away with murder.

  23. @Swarthmore: As far as banning cigarettes: No. I do not smoke (anything), I almost never drink alcohol in any form, I take no mind-altering drugs. But I do not believe it is the job of government to decide upon our health or prevent people from getting high, stoned or drugged, even to the point of fatality. So I agree on banning smoking in public places just like I would agree to a ban for other people injecting me with heroin or slipping alcohol into my food without my knowledge. But I do not agree to ban tobacco, pot, alcohol, heroin, crack, Ecstasy, meth, speed or any other drug that can be used by adults in privacy for their own entertainment.

    Again, I have never used any illegal drug, and do not want to use any. I am opposed on principle, it is not the government’s job to protect me from my own decisions, and I think our government has long overstepped its bounds in trying to become our moral leaders. I would neither ban nor tax cigarettes any differently than any other item. I would prevent them from being sold (or marketed) to minors. I have no problem with the government performing research on the health effects of cigarettes and reporting that to the public; I think that is a valuable service for any food or product (such as transfat or high-fructose corn syrup) that we have reason to believe has an unusual impact upon health.

  24. Thanks to SwM, JCT, Zari, etc for the facts.

    Indonesia, Borneo, New Guinea, etc and the Amazon are our last untrampled tropical rainforests. As such they are providing and will hopefuly continue to provide necessary organic compounds with biological effects on humans, now and after further research.

    The palm oil industry is a very large motivation to destruction of the rainforest, as mentioned.

    The health efffects of saturated fats was also mentioned.

    Now as TonyC said it is your privilege to destroy your own health. But certainly he agrees that destruction of our common resource must be prevented due to shortsighted profit interests.

    And speaking of labeling: You saw that the Calif. amendment to require labeling of GMO products failed.

  25. @Idealist: What makes those forests “ours”?

    How did we take possession of them?

    If we want to protect those forests, we should BUY those forests, because they do not belong to us, they belong to the citizens of those countries. Those citizens are doing precisely what “we” did in America and in Europe, they are cutting down forests for financial gain. Ireland used to be covered by forest; you know, and “we” clear cut it for farming.

    I think it is disingenuous of us to keep the wealth and power we generated by cutting down our own forests and tell others they cannot do the same. If cutting down our forests was wrong, we should take our ill-gotten inflation-adjusted wealth from that and use it to create an alternative industry for others so they do not have to cut down their forest. Either that, or we should take those gains and use them to undo the environmental damage WE did by replanting the forests we destroyed.

    Otherwise, we are just hypocrites; because obviously short-sighted profit interest was not a problem when WE were doing it and we have no intent of ever paying the price for that, but those other jokers better find another way. It is “Do as we say, not as we did.”

  26. Darren,

    The problem with that idea is you’d have people literally fighting over the jobs to put the tax registration stickers on. ;)

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