In March this year, former Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to push ahead with the controversial Sugar Tax – a tax levied on sugary drinks in an effort to help combat obesity, which is supposed to come into force in 2018.
Since then, Brexit happened and many of the planned health policies of the previous government have been hanging in the tipping-scale.
While there is still uncertainty about whether the new government will push ahead with raising the sugar tax, it looks like raising a specific tax on sugary foods is gaining more and more popularity across the globe.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added its support to countries that place a “sugar tax” on soft drinks. A new report published by the global health group found that raising prices on sugary foods and drinks by 20 per cent or more results in lower consumption and “improved nutrition”.
Several countries, including Mexico and Hungary, already tax added sugar products. South Africa is introducing a sugar tax next year. It’s the only country in Africa to do so.
The WHO said it wants to see lower consumption of “free sugars”, which it said would lower incidences of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. “Free sugars” are all the different types of added sugar in the diet, except for those found naturally in fruit and milk.
The WHO’s nutrition director, Dr Francesco Branca, said “nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet”. He added that taxation or other financial measures should be used only on food items “for which healthier alternatives are available”.
While it is good to see that the WHO is backing taxation on sugary foods, food manufacturers are up in arms. British Sugar has teamed up with a number of industry associations, including the British Soft Drinks Association, the British Beer & Pub Association, and the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, to call on the government to scrap the mooted sugar tax amid growing fears the controversial levy will lead to job losses.
Some firms also believe the tax could encourage “criminal gangs to exploit the tax and flood the market with imported product”, according to James Bielby of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors.
He added: “The sugar tax will increase the number of imports brought into the UK.
As the tax will not be collected at point of entry there is a massive opportunity for organised criminal gangs to exploit the tax and flood the market with imported product.
Soft drinks in other countries often have higher sugar content so there will be a double whammy for the government – more sugary soft drinks could be available but no levy collected.”
However, Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said the suggestion was “a ridiculous and unsubstantiated scare story from the sugary drinks industry”.
He added: “They have lost the public health, political and moral arguments. They are now having to fall back on the discredited and failed tactics of tobacco companies.”
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Sugar tax: what does it mean, which drinks will be affected, and will it work? published online 17.03.2016, telegraph.co.uk/
Tax on sugary foods and drinks backed by World Health Organisation, published online 11.10.16, bbc.co.uk/
Job fears mount as businesses unite to fight UK sugar tax, published online 16.08.16, telegraph.co.uk
‘Sugar tax could lead to increase in illegal trade’, suppliers claim, published online, 13.10.16, itv.com