The FSA was looking at taxation as an incentive to encourage consumers to eat more healthily, its chief executive Tim Smith told the EU Food Law Journal. Price could not be ignored, he added, and it was considering how "incentives and penalties" could work in terms of choice editing.
It would also look at whether varying VAT rates for different classes of foods would impact on consumption levels, he said. The FSA board was planning to discuss the issue in the autumn, he admitted, adding that any proposals would be aimed at reducing salt, saturated fat, fat and sugar consumption. He refused to give any further details on the plans or discuss how they would work, stressing that the work was at an early stage.
However, it is understood that Smith has recently spent time in the United States studying President Obama's plans to tax carbonated soft drinks and divert the revenue into the healthcare budget.
The FSA revelations have been dismissed as a non-starter by industry insiders and legal experts alike.
Society would have to "travel down a very long road before any significant country introduced a fat tax", food lawyer Owen Warnock of law firm Eversheds said this week.
The Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley told The Grocer earlier this month that should his party gain power, it would strip the FSA of all responsibility for diet and nutrition strategy, leaving it to focus solely on food safety. In this case, the FSA would not be able to carry through on its autumn plans.
However, a fat tax in the UK was unlikely, irrespective of the next government, Warnock insisted.
"Unlike alcohol or tobacco, the health impact of certain foods is much more debatable. Where would you draw the line? Plus there would be no attraction for government in terms of driving revenue."
Unlike cigarette tax, which could be relied on as a revenue driver, a food tax was likely to prompt people to eat less or switch to a cheaper alternative, he said, adding that its only benefit would be health and this would not be enough.
Meanwhile, one industry insider slammed the idea that unhealthy food was cheaper than healthy options as a "myth".
"You walk into any supermarket and you are blasted with deals on fresh fruit and veg," he said. "Does an apple cost less than a Mars bar? A lot of the foods the FSA is talking about are all taxed at 17.5% higher than healthy food anyway because of VAT."