A lawmaker at the House of Representatives said the Department of Health (DOH) should reexamine its plan to impose additional taxes on salty food products considering the vital role of salt in the Filipino diet.
Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said that while it is laudable to push for a measure imposing taxes on food with high salt content for public health’s sake, such move to encourage Filipino families to buy healthier food options would quickly deplete the household budget.
“Salt, used moderately, aids our digestion and excretion. The unique identification of any Filipino household is marked with having salt in our kitchen and eating tuyo, daing and bagoong to name a few,” said Garin, a former Health Secretary.
“We have to understand that many Filipinos do not have refrigerators in their houses, so essentially, they will buy salted fish to preserve it for the next few days,” she added.
The lawmaker noted that DOH’s proposal would also have negative effects on the livelihoods of fishermen and their families, which would consequently make salty food less affordable.
If there is really a pressing need to address the excessive consumption of salt as a health issue, she said it is high time to revisit the implementation of Republic Act 8172, otherwise known as ASIN Law.
“RA 8172 was enacted to address the lack of micronutrients in the country, and after more than 20 years of its passage, a probe is necessary to discuss solutions that are relevant not just to health, but also in the preservation of culture and means of livelihood for those families who depend on the local salt industry,” she added.
Garin said the DOH should iron out the details if it wants additional taxes imposed for health reasons, noting that it should inspect if previous legislations on the utilization and use of excise taxes from alcohol and tobacco have translated into better health care for Filipinos.
“We should not only think of taxes. We should also assess whether taxes collected for health are really making a difference. We have seen the positive effects of increasing sin taxes only in terms of revenue, but what about for the health of our fellow countrymen?” she said.
“Our public health system must not be treated as a political tool but rather as a means to make every Filipino healthy,” she added.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier attributed the plan to increase the tax on salty foods to the decision to tax sugar-sweetened drinks to curb consumption and lessen sugar-related health issues.
United Nations Interagency Task Force (UNIATF) data show that a high intake of salty foods is among the reasons for the increase of non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
In the Philippines, non-communicable diseases account for 68 percent of deaths.
UNIATF data reveal the average salt intake of Filipinos is about two times more than the two grams of sodium per day or about 5 grams recommended by the World Health Organization. (PNA)