Sources in the soft drinks sector have told Food Manufacture they felt betrayed by the announcement especially given the constructive dialogue the industry had engaged in with ministers to help reduce childhood obesity levels.
The volte-face from the Conservative government was equally surprising, given that it – like the Labour Party – had until now dismissed the prospect of taxes, arguing they were regressive.
Angela Smith, a Labour member of the Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, even described the announcement as a distraction, akin to “throwing a dead cat on the table” at a recent food industry seminar.
The sugar tax is scheduled to be introduced in April 2018. But, already, some fear it will destroy jobs in the UK soft drinks sector. Unite, the union, has yet, officially, to take a position on the sugar tax, saying that it is weighing up the balance between its effect on jobs and public health. It also isn't yet clear whether the extra costs would be passed on to consumers, or absorbed by the companies.
To me, the soft drinks tax smacks of token gesture politics, rather than being based on any rigorous science and evidence. Yes, many of us are overweight and consuming too many calories. But those calories come from various ingredients – including fats as well as sugars.
So why focus on just one and just one food and drink category, especially given the work by the sector to develop low and no-calorie versions and reduce portion sizes?