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Removing the GST exemption for fresh fruits and vegetables could cost lives

To the Editor: There have been rumours that the current exemption from the goods and services tax (GST) for fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, might be removed.1 Changes in government are often accompanied by a review of policies, and broadening the tax base is appealing because it would increase efficiency and raise revenue. But what implications would a rise in the price of fruits and vegetables have for the Australian diet and health?

From estimates of the price elasticity of demand for fruits and vegetables in the United States, we estimate that fruit consumption would decline by 4.9% (95% CI, 2.6%–8.1%) and vegetable consumption by 4.8% (95% CI, 2.6%–7.2%) with removal of the current 10% GST exemption.2 To model lifetime health effects, we used methods we developed for the Assessing Cost-Effectiveness in Prevention (ACE Prevention) project.3 The model mimics the 2003 Australian population in terms of the health-adjusted life-years lived and compares current practice with a scenario in which fruit and vegetable consumption is reduced. Based on available evidence, the model assumes a reduction in fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with an increase in the incidence of ischaemic…