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England up in Arms over ‘Pasty Tax’

April 2, 2012

The United Kingdom is in an uproar over plans to slap a tax on freshly baked take-out foods, including the beloved Cornish pasty.

The pasty, which mixes meat and vegetables inside a small pastry, has been around since the 17th Century, when it was baked for tin miners, according to the Associated Press. It has become a staple food in the U.K., where it is often consumed by workers as an inexpensive lunch. One of the most popular food chains that sells the pasty (which rhymes with “nasty) is Greggs bakeries, which saw its shares fall once the tax was announced.

Actually it isn’t so much a tax as the closing of a kind of loophole in the value-added tax. Until now, pasties and sausage rolls have been exempt from the VAT on hot take-out items like soup and warm sandwiches, but the new law aims to close that exemption. Any food “heated for the purposes of enabling it to be consumed at a temperature above the ambient air temperature and which is above that temperature” would now be subject to the VAT.

While the tax would affect more types of food than just the pasty, pasty lovers have seized on the controversy and dubbed it the “pasty tax.”

The controversy has also touched off accusations of class warfare against the U.K.’s Conservative government, especially after Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told a parliamentary committee, “I can’t remember the last time I bought a pasty in Greggs.” The controversy has been labeled “Pasty-gate” by the U.K. press, according to The New York Times.

Prime Minister David Cameron has stepped in to proclaim his pasty bona fides and insisted that he does eat occasionally consume them. But he said he didn’t buy his at a Greggs the last time he ate one in Leeds. “I have a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too,” he said.

The controversy is reminding Britons of the so-called “granny tax,” in which Cameron’s government also got rid of some tax allowances for retirees as another revenue-raising measure. As in the U.S., more U.K. taxpayers are feeling that the government is trying to balance its budget on the backs of the middle class, or maybe in this case on their palates.

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