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British Government Rules Out Tax on Sugary Drinks, Despite 100,000-Strong Petition

September 29, 2015
Food & Drink

The British Department of Health has said that it has no plans to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. The announcement comes after it was presented with a petition signed by over 140,000 people in support of a tax, which was recently promoted by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.

In a statement, the DoH said: “The Government has committed to a tax lock to avoid raising the cost of living and to promote UK productivity and economic growth, however, the Government keeps all taxes under review, with decisions being a matter for the Chancellor as part of the Budget process.”

It continued: “The causes of obesity are complex, caused by a number of dietary, lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors, and tackling it will require a comprehensive and broad approach. As such, the Government is considering a range of options for tackling childhood obesity, and the contribution that Government, alongside industry, families and communities can make, and will announce its plans for tackling childhood obesity by the end of the year.”

As Oliver launched his campaign to tax sugary drinks, which he thinks contribute significantly to the increasing burden of obesity in the UK, he announced that all proceeds of his own initiative would go to the Children’s Food Campaign, a group targeting education of children in healthy lifestyle.

Malcolm Clark, from the Children’s Food Campaign, commented: “It seems absurd that the Government is prematurely ruling out a potent part of its arsenal for reducing excessive sugar consumption. If the Government is serious about tackling childhood obesity and diet-related ill health, then a sugary drinks duty must be one of the options that are on the table for consideration. The evidence is there on the benefits particularly to children’s health, along with the impact that the money raised could have if put into programmes to improve children’s health and protect the environment they grow up in. The public support this too, as shown through the online petition to Government, which had over 100,000 signatures within 48 hours, and continues to gather more.  There is real public appetite for robust measures which will make a difference, rather than a rehash of the failed responsibility deal which has not.”

Many industry specialists support a tax on sugary foods as a method to curb obesity, however failed schemes in Mexico, Denmark and France illustrate the complexity of the issue. Many consumers revert to cheaper versions of sugary foods and drinks but continue to consume them in large amounts.

Speaking in the BMJ recently, Sirpa Sarlio-Lähteenkorva, adjunct professor and ministerial adviser, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland, said: “Taxes are traditionally regarded as a source of revenue, but they can also be used as tools in health policy. Indeed, taxes on alcohol and tobacco have been widely used for decades and reduce consumption. Many countries have also recently passed legislation to introduce or increase taxes on specific food items such as soft drinks, sweets, chocolate, ice cream, or other unhealthy foods, often aiming to combine fiscal and health benefits. Although data are limited, emerging evidence indicates that food taxes can influence consumption.”

“However, improving dietary habits this way is more complicated than limiting alcohol or tobacco use. Food is a necessity, and overall consumption is relatively insensitive to price changes. When some foods become more expensive consumers tend to look for cheaper substitutes. These cross elastics of demand need to be considered carefully when planning food taxes. It has been suggested that to influence consumption the price increase has to be at least 20%, and consumption of some foods is less sensitive to price changes than for others. Limited data come mostly from modelling studies. However, increasing evidence suggests that taxes on soft drinks, sugar, and snacks can change diets and improve health, especially in lower socioeconomic groups, where price elasticity is high. The potential for improved health is greatest when combined with incentives for choosing healthier foods.”

Source: Food Ingredients 1st

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