A new law in Colombia, making it one of the first countries in the world to explicitly tax ultra-processed food, has been welcomed by activists and health experts who say it could set an example for other countries.
After years of campaigning, the "junk food law" went into effect this month and will gradually introduce a tax. The additional tax on junk food will start immediately at 10%, rise to 15% next year and become 20% in 2025.
Countries around the world have introduced health taxes, such as taxing tobacco or sugary drinks, but few have extended them to processed foods, said Franco Sassi, professor of international health policy and economics at Imperial College Business School in London. "The Colombian model is more comprehensive than anything we have seen so far and can serve as an example for other countries."
The tax targets ultra-processed products, defined as industrially manufactured ready-to-eat foods, and products high in salt and saturated fat, such as chocolate or potato chips. Sassi said some compromises were made with the food industry, such as excluding some traditional Colombian foods, such as salchichón sausage, from the tax.
The Colombian diet is high in sodium, which has been linked to an increase in cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart failure, which account for nearly a quarter of deaths each year. The average Colombian consumes 12 grams of salt per day - the highest rate in Latin America and one of the highest in the world. Nearly one-third of adults in the country have high blood pressure.
Critics of the new tax said it will worsen Colombia’s struggle with inflation.