MPs back sugar tax hike as obesity plan unfolds

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Manufacturers must now pay at least 18p extra per unit for soft drinks containing 5g or more of added sugar
Manufacturers must now pay at least 18p extra per unit for soft drinks containing 5g or more of added sugar
Political appetite to increase ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks and extend the levy to other products is growing, a Populus survey seen exclusively by Food Manufacture has revealed.

The news came as the Government announced on 24 June chapter 2 of its Obesity Plan, which targets energy drink, confectionery and snacks manufacturers.

More than a third of MPs (36%) surveyed said they would support increasing the Soft Drinks Industry Levy – up from 24% in 2016. More than half (54%) favoured extending it to other product categories. Responses also indicated interest in taxing fast foods.

In a statement, Populus said: “It will take years before clear evidence on the effectiveness of the sugar tax is available, but MPs are primed to press ahead with increasing and extending the sugar levy regardless.

“The issue of obesity has become so acute in the UK that politicians feel that the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action. While we wait for evidence on the effectiveness of the sugar tax, expect more rather than less legislation on obesity.”

Populus polled 116 MPs, comprising 47 Conservative , 57 Labour and 12 Other members of parliament in May and June 2018, using a mixture of paper and online surveys. The data gathered was weighted to be politically representative of the House of Commons.

Obesity Plan

Meanwhile, health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled the next phase of the Government’s Obesity Plan had energy drinks and confectionery and snacks promotions in its crosshairs.

Intended to halve childhood obesity by 2030, key pillars of the strategy include banning the sale of “harmful, caffeine-laden energy drinks to children’ and preventing stores from selling unhealthy foods at checkouts”.

Hunt’s department would consult on the energy drink ban, with his announcement claiming: “… A quarter of six to nine year-olds consume these energy drinks, which can have as much caffeine as a cup of coffee or more.”

It added: “Building on the first chapter of the childhood obesity plan, the new measures include proposals to counter ‘pester power’ by preventing stores from displaying unhealthy food at checkouts or including it in buy-one-get-one-free deals.”

The Government said it would consult on introducing TV and online advertising restrictions to prevent children from being targeted by these unhealthy products. It would also aim to incentivise companies to reduce the sugar and calories in the products they sold.

Such measures could include extending the current advertising watershed and limiting the number of adverts for 'unhealthy food' shown during children’s programmes up to 9pm, the announcement stated.

High-caffeine drinks

The British Soft Drinks Association operates a voluntary code of practice for manufacturers stating that soft drinks high in caffeine are not recommended for children, and that labelling should clearly highlight this.  It also states that high-caffeine soft drinks should not be promoted or marketed to those under 16.

Their labels should also indicate that they are not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women or persons sensitive to caffeine and that they should be consumed moderately, the code stipulates.

In addition, the code states that no marketing communications concerning high caffeine soft drinks would be placed in any media with an audience of which more than 35% is under 16 years old.

Tim Rycroft, Food & Drink Federation director of corporate affairs, said: “The Government has come forward with a new raft of proposals centred around further industry regulation. While the commitment to full consultation on these measures is welcome, there will be deep disquiet in the food and drink manufacturing sector today.

“Advertising and promotions underpin the healthy, vibrant and innovative market for food and drink that UK shoppers love. If Government restricts our ability to advertise and promote new healthier options to shoppers, it could risk the success of the reformulation programme.  Any further restrictions will have to pass stern tests around targeting and effectiveness.” 

Also included in Hunt’s announcement were proposals for clear, consistent calorie labelling on foodservice menus to guide families’ meal choices and an extra £1m to support the Department for Transport’s cycling training programme. Promotion of an ‘active mile’ initiative for primary schools was another measure called for.

The Soft Drinks Industry Levy was introduced on 6 April​ and requires soft drinks manufacturers to pay a surcharge to the Government for all drinks containing 5g or more of added sugar per 100ml. The charge is 18p for drinks containing 5g - 8g of added sugar and 24p for drinks containing 8g or more.

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1 comment

Sugar tax

Posted by Gordon Chubb,

Whilst I agree too much sugar is bad for you I'm wondering what the health implications are going to be when all this sugar is replaced by chemical substitute s! Chemicals that I've seen cause serious reactions in children. Some have even been classed as neurotoxins.

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