Russia Is Considering a Palm Oil Tax - but Not Because Putin Loves Orangutans

When the Russian government makes headlines for its food policy, it’s generally because the new law’s regulations have more to do with foreign policy. Consider when, in 2014, just weeks after a Dutch airliner was shot down over Ukraine, a Russian watchdog agency leveled an array of charges and regulations against McDonald’s, or when Russia banned imports of Georgian wine in 2006 as tensions were rising over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In both the resulting Russo-Georgian War in 2008 and the Ukrainian conflict, food policy—under the guise of food safety and public health—was part of Russia’s posturing.

Considering that recent history, the latest plans out of the Kremlin might suggest that Russian-Indonesian relationships are deteriorating: According to Reuters, the country is considering an excise tax on palm oil.

President Vladimir Putin, however, does not appear to be standing up for orangutans or taking on deforestation. This time around, as Russia also considers a tax on soda, public health policy appears to be public health policy—well, that and budget balancing, as the business dailyVedomosti reported. The excise tax on palm oil, if passed, would be about $200 per ton.

Even if the measure is more narrowly focused on public health, the number of problems and places palm oil touches on make any regulation against it complicated. Palm oil, which is high in saturated fat, is often used in processed foods as a cheaper substitute for butter or a trans-fat-free alternative to partially hydrogenated soybean oil. It is also commonly used for frying foods such as french fries or potato chips. But the medical research isn’t clear that reducing consumption will make people healthier; some research suggests that it can help to reduce cholesterol levels.

As a policy idea, taxes aimed at reducing palm oil consumption could change things for orangutans and other wildlife in Indonesia and Malaysia, where 85 percent of the tropical crop is grown. Huge amounts of rainforest habitat have been destroyed to make way for the crop, not only destroying habitat but, thanks to the fires often used to clear land, creating significant CO2 emissions.

Soda taxes, however, appear to have far more momentum: In addition to Russia, India, the Philippines, Great Britain, and Malaysia are debating laws this year. 

This article originally appeared on Reprinted with permission.

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