Soft drinks boss hits back in sugar tax debate

By Alice Foster contact

- Last updated on GMT

British Soft Drinks Association boss Gavin Partington defends the industry
British Soft Drinks Association boss Gavin Partington defends the industry

Related tags: Soft drinks, Sucrose, Soft drinks association

The soft drinks sector has defended itself against attacks from health campaigners as the sugar tax debate intensifies.

British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington agreed and said sections of the health lobby wrongly depicted businesses as driven by profit with no concern for what consumers drank.

“It could not be further from the truth,”​ Partington told FoodManufacture.co.uk on the sidelines of an event at the House of Commons on Monday (October 26).

“Those who argue that the industry has done nothing are wide of the mark and do not recognise what is happening in the sector.”

Attacks on soft drinks

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and other sugar tax campaigners have blamed sugary soft drinks for the UK’s rise in tooth decay, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

But Partington said the industry was actually leading the way in terms reformulating products to reduce the calories in soft drinks and to reduce portion sizes.

He described Oliver’s campaign for a sugar tax as “misguided” ​and said the evidence did not support the notion that a levy on soft drinks would tackle obesity.

Partington said: “As a parent, I would say Jamie Oliver deserves a fair bit of credit for his efforts over the years.

“I just think on this particular issue he’s got it slightly wrong. He’s been led by the health lobby to focus on this one ingredient and one product category.

Needs ‘comprehensive action’

“We all know that if we are going to tackle obesity, we need comprehensive action.”

Partington also defended the rights of consumers to choose what they drink and how they decide to manage their calorie intake.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a full sugar soft drink as an occasional treat,”​ he said.

“Would I want to my son or daughter sitting slumped on a sofa drinking litre after litre? No I wouldn’t. But I don’t think anybody in the industry is saying they should.”

He said the introduction of technology such mobile phones, tablets and Xbox video games had not come under the same level of scrutiny as diet in the obesity debate.

“That’s every bit as relevant to the fact people’s lifestyles these days are not as healthy as they used to be,”​ he said.

A Public Health England (PHE) report calling for measures to reduce sugar was released last week following an outcry over a government decision to delay its publication.

Partington rejected its sugar tax recommendation but agreed with other recommendations over reducing sugar content and portion sizes and control of advertising targeted at children.

He said: “We as an industry stand ready to support tighter rules on HFSS [high fat, sugar, salt] advertising.” 

Meanwhile, Food and Drink Federation boss Ian Wright last week compared Oliver’s tactics to those of EastEnders hardman Phil Mitchell.

View from soft drinks industry

“Those who argue that the industry has done nothing are wide of the mark and do not recognise what is happening in the sector.”

  • Gavin Partington, director general, British Soft Drinks Association 

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