The food industry has hit back at Jamie Oliver’s latest campaign to impose a “sugar tax” on soft drinks to combat the obesity crisis, telling the celebrity chef that parents are best placed to make decisions about their children’s diet.
Oliver called for a 20p per litre levy on every soft drink containing added sugar – equating to about 7p on every 330ml can of Coca-Cola.
The chef said the levy could raise revenue of up to £1bn per year to support preventative strategies in the NHS and in schools around obesity.
Oliver, who presents a Channel 4 documentary next week in which he meets sufferers from Type 2 diabetes who have had limbs amputated due to excess sugar in their diets, said he had lobbied David Cameron directly to introduce a “sugar tax”.
However, the Food and Drink Federation challenged Oliver’s claim that sugary soft drinks are the single largest source of calories consumed by children. The body said that sugar consumption in the UK was on a downward trend.
Far more low and no-calorie soft drinks are sold in the UK than regular drinks, it argued, and it said that after an initial fall, consumption of soft drinks had risen in France after a tax was introduced in 2012.
Quizzed by Oliver in the film, Jamie’s Sugar Rush, Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “Demonising one nutrient is not a healthy way to proceed. Consumer choice is the best way to go because government intervention simply doesn’t work.”
However, Oliver met surgeons required to take out the decayed teeth of young children and perform amputations on diabetes sufferers, who warned that the NHS would “crumble” because of the accumulating cost of treating sugar-related outcomes.
The film shows Oliver visiting Mexico, where a “soda tax” of 1 peso per litre, introduced in 2014, has raised more than $1bn (£650m) and produced a 6 per cent reduction in sugary drink consumption in its first year.
Jamie’s Sugar Rush screens at 9pm on C4 on 3 September
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