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When Is A Salad Not A Salad? The Australian Tax Office Is Finding Out.

Hot chips are a vegetable, right?

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The Australian Tax Office will soon offer clarification on when a salad is a salad, and when a salad is not a salad – at least, for tax purposes.

The move comes after industry players – including supermarkets and salad chains – requested a meeting with the ATO to discuss, well, how one defines a salad.

"We’re currently working with industry to review the guidelines, and we're looking at whether the guidelines still reflect the very rapidly moving nature of salads and these types of products in the market," ATO deputy commissioner Timothy Dyce said on Wednesday.

The ATO will "very shortly" offer clarification on what a salad is for tax purposes.

When ALP senator Jenny McAllister asked a hearing of the Senate economics committee if fresh salads were subject to the GST, Dyce responded that in order to answer to the question, "It depends what you define a salad as".

"Some may define it as a bowl of lettuce, some may define it as a BBQ chicken shredded up with three grains of rice on it."

Perhaps wary of how his answer sounded, Dyce added: "I'm not trying to be facetious... there [are] a range of products that are very, very different that are marketed as salads."

Commissioner of taxation Chris Jordan identified himself as a frequent enjoyer of salads before wading into the meaty debate.

"Being a person who has a salad every day when I’m Sydney, this is of interest to me, and I will look at the receipt I get next time to see if they’re charging GST or not," he said.

Jordan said that it was not the intention of the ATO to "make things complex for people in salad bars".

"We wouldn’t want to disrupt things that have been in place for a long time, unless of course there's silly behaviour from a few who are trying to call something a salad [when] it might be something different," he said.

Pressed for evidence of such skulduggery, Jordan said the consultations with industry and McAllister's own questions indicated there was some kind of issue.

"Clearly someone's aware of it, because [if not] we wouldn't be running around having consultations on salads," he said.

McAllister referred to a 1999 letter from former prime minister John Howard to Democrats leader Meg Lees in which he promised the GST would not apply to salads.

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Perhaps anticipating the historical direction of the conversation, an official had earlier quipped "We going down the birthday cake path?" – a reference to the infamous 1993 moment when then Liberal leader John Hewson could not explain whether a birthday cake would cost more under the GST.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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