When it comes to scintillating topics for debate, I readily accept that VAT is right up there with pensions, the Common Agricultural Policy and next week's Budget statement from the Chancellor (ie: they are all extremely complicated subjects that are excruciatingly dull, which is why most of us tend to ignore them, even though we know they have a massive impact on our lives).
But, as our special report on page 42 clearly shows, we should be paying more attention to the law governing VAT on food and drink - because it is completely illogical and in serious need of a revamp. That's because the law hasn't really changed since 1973 and has not kept up with developments in the market, which in turn means utterly ludicrous situations have been created where one product is zero-rated while another very similar product is not.
Take crisps - or potato snacks, as we should be calling them. Apparently, P&G's Pringles Dippers are zero-rated because they come with a dip, which means they need further preparation before being eaten. McCoy's Dips, on the other hand, have been ruled not to need further preparation and so have been standard-rated.
If you are confused by that, then you will love our feature. Microwaveable popcorn is VAT-free, for instance, while ready-to-eat popcorn is not. Frozen foods have VAT, unless it's ice cream, which does not. Submarines are free of VAT, while pleasure boats carry the full charge (don't ask: we have no idea why either).
And there's more. As VAT expert Simon Newark tells us: "Customs will have a go at anything. My favourite gripe is smoothies. If fruit and vegetables are zero-rated and cold gazpacho soup is zero-rated, why is a smoothie subject to VAT?" Answers on postcard to Gordon Brown, I guess, at the usual Treasury address.
Anyway, this nonsense could be sorted out by some harmonisation of sales tax across the EU. That's on the cards - but reform would take years to come about (just think how long it has taken Europe to agree any changes to the CAP, for instance).
So it is up to the government to try to sort out this mess - and perhaps a standard, flat rate 5% sales tax on everything would be one way of making life easier for everybody, whether they are making submarines or chocolate-coated biscuits.