Romania could enact a 'McFat tax' on fast foods

BUCHAREST, Romania — For post-communist Romanians a Big Mac and soda meant much more than a meal: It was a culinary signpost from the free and capitalist West — a sign they too, at last, had arrived.

But modernity requires something different today: The Balkan country is moving to join the health-conscious 21st century by proposing taxes on burgers, french fries, soda and other fast foods with high fat and sugar content.

"We have to relearn how to eat," Health Ministry official Adrian Streinu Cercel said.

The ministry says that — in contrast to the situation under communism — half of Romania's population is overweight, while obesity has doubled among 10-year-olds.

Officials have refused to say how high the taxes would be.

If the plan goes through, Romania will be aligning itself with — and outdoing — other countries looking to crack down on fatty foods and encourage better eating.

Taiwan floated a fast food tax, while Denmark and Austria have made trans-fats illegal. Britain, Norway and Sweden have banned junk food commercials from TV at certain times of the day.

Critics of the Romanian proposals agree the government should stick to educating rather than taxing, especially during a recession. Some also criticize the government's plans for exempting pizzas and kebabs and other potentially high-fat dishes, saying the exclusions showed the measure was a "McFat tax" — targeting certain Western fast food outlets — and not something that was truly meant to help the public.