Soft drinks industry rejects calls for budget sugar tax

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Taxing question: a duty on sugary drinks at the rate of 20p per litre would raise about £1bn a year, said Sustain
Taxing question: a duty on sugary drinks at the rate of 20p per litre would raise about £1bn a year, said Sustain

Related tags Soft drinks Health Public health Nutrition Obesity

Food and drink manufacturers have rejected calls from the campaign group Sustain for the chancellor to introduce a duty on sugary drinks at the next Budget.

More than 60 organisatons ‒ including the  Association for the Study of Obesity, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Centre for Food Policy, City University – are backing the request.  

Sustain’s report ‒ A Children’s Future Fund – how food duties could provide the money to protect children’s health and the world they grow up in ‒ ​published today (January 29) calls for the money raised by the duty to be spent on improving children’s health by, for example, providing free school meals.

Other suggestions include: appointing an independent body the responsibility to oversee how the sugary drinks duty is implemented, reforming the VAT system to reflect the healthiness of food and drinks and to introduce duties on unsustainable foods.

‘Complex problem of obesity’

But Gavin Partington, British Soft Drinks Association director general, warned a tax on soft drinks ‒ which contributes just 2% of the total calories in the average diet ‒ would not help to remedy the “serious and complex problem”,​ of obesity,

During the past 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar fell by 9%, while the incidence of obesity has risen by 15%, he said. “We all recognise our industry has a role to play in the fight against obesity, which is why soft drinks companies have already taken action to ensure they are playing their part.”

Partington claimed 61% of soft drinks now contain no added sugar. Also, soft drinks companies had pledged further voluntary action as part of the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal Calorie Reduction Pledge, he added. The commitments included: reducing the sugar content in products and introducing smaller packs.

The poorest families

Terry Jones, Food and Drink Federation director of communications, said soft drinks are taxed at the standard VAT rate of 20%. Additional taxation of food would hit the poorest families hardest at a time when they can least afford it, he claimed.

“Recognising the growing obesity problem, food and drink manufacturers are committed to doing what they can to improve public health,”​ said Jones. “By changing product recipes, creating new healthier options, investing in consumer education and providing clear nutritional information to enable healthier choices, manufacturers are playing their part to deliver better long-term public health outcomes.”

But Charlie Powell, Sustain’s campaign’s director, railed against “sugar-laden drinks” ​describing them as “mini-health timebombs​”. Such drinks contributed to dental diseases, obesity and a range of life-threatening illnesses which cost the National Health Service billions each year, he claimed.

A duty on sugary drinks at the rate of 20p per litre would raise about £1bn a year, according to the campaign group.

Mike Rayner of the Department of Public Health at Oxford University and chair of Sustain, added: “Just as we use fiscal measures to discourage drinking and smoking and help prevent people from dying early, there is now lots of evidence that the same approach would work for food. 

“This modest proposal goes some way towards making the price of food reflect its true costs to society.  Our obesity epidemic causes debilitating illness, life threatening diseases and misery for millions of people.  It is high time government did something effective about this problem.”​  


Organisations backing Sustain

1.       Academy of Culinary Arts Chefs Adopt a School Trust

2.       Academy of Medical Royal Colleges

3.       Association for the Study of Obesity

4.       Association of Teachers and Lecturers

5.       Aynsley-Green Consulting (Former Children’s Commissioner for England)

6.       Baby Milk Action

7.       British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry

8.       British Dental Health Foundation

9.       British Dietetic Association

10.    British Society of Dental Hygiene & Therapy

11.    Campaign for Real Farming

12.    Caroline Walker Trust

13.    Centre for Food Policy, City University

14.    Community Composting Network

15.    Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association

16.    Compassion in World Farming

17.    Consensus Action on Salt and Health

18.    European Public Health Alliance

19.    Family Farmers’ Association

20.    Farms for City Children

21.    Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens

22.    First Steps Nutrition Trust

23.    Food and Behaviour Research

24.    Food Ethics Council

25.    Food for Life Partnership

26.    Food Matters

27.    Friends of the Earth

28.    Garden Organic

29.    Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome Help

30.    Health Education Trust

31.    Heart of Mersey

32.    Institute of Health Visiting

33.    Linking Environment and Farming

34.    National Children’s Bureau

35.    National Day Nurseries Association

36.    National Federation of Women’s Institutes

37.    National Heart Forum

38.    Netmums

39.    New Economics Foundation

40.    Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke

41.    Organic Research Centre

42.    Permaculture Association

43.    Pesticide Action Network UK

44.    Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

45.    Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

46.    Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

47.    Royal Society for Public Health

48.    Scottish Cancer Prevention Network

49.    School Food Matters

50.    Soil Association

51.    tfX: the campaign against trans fats in food

52.    Trading Standards Institute

53.    UK Faculty of Public Health

54.    UK Society for Behavioural Medicine (Executive Committee)

55.    UNISON

56.    Waste Watch

57.    Weight Concern

58.    Woodcraft Folk

59.    World Cancer Research Fund

60.    World Public Health Nutrition Association

61.    World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms


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