Charities call for tax on soft drink brands

A group of charities has called on the Government to introduce a tax on soft drinks brands to help combat rising levels of obesity in the UK.

Soft drinks manufacturers warn tax will not solve the “serious and complex” problem of obesity.

More than 60 organisations including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health are backing the proposal by food and farming charity Sustain for the Chancellor to introduce the tax at the next budget in March (20 March).

Sustain says the money raised from the tax, which could add 20p a litre to the price of sugary drinks, could generate an extra £1bn a year to help curb obesity in the UK. It argues the measure could save lives by cutting the consumption of sugary drinks.

Charlie Powell, Sustain’s campaigns director, says: “Sugar-laden drinks are mini-health timebombs, contributing to dental diseases, obesity and a host of life-threatening illnesses which cost the NHS billions each year. [The tax] is a simple and easy-to-understand measure which will help save lives by reducing sugar in our diets and raising much needed money to protect children’s health.”

Food and drink manufacturers have dismissed calls for the introduction of a duty on sugary drinks and insist the focus should be on investing in product innovation and consumer awareness campaigns.

Gavin Partington, director general of the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), says: “Obesity is a serious and complex problem, but a tax on soft drinks, which contribute just 2 per cent of the total calories in the average diet, will not help address it. Over the last 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9 per cent while the incidence of obesity has increased by 15 per cent.

“We all recognise our industry has a role to play in the fight against obesity, which is why soft drinks companies have already taken action to ensure they are playing their part – 61 per cent of soft drinks now contain no added sugar and we have seen soft drinks companies lead the way in committing to further, voluntary action as part of the government’s Responsibility Deal calorie reduction pledge.

The concerns over the introduction of a new levy were also echoed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

Terry Jones, director of communications at the FDF, adds:“Soft drinks are currently taxed at the standard VAT rate of 20 per cent. Any additional taxation of food will hit the poorest families hardest at a time when they can least afford it.

“By changing product recipes, creating new healthier options, investing in consumer education and providing clear nutritional information to enable healthier choices, manufacturers are playing their part to deliver better long-term public health outcomes.”

The proposal comes just a week after several soft drinks including AG Barr and Brtivic agreed to cut the calories and sugar in their drink brands by up to 10 per cent as part of the latest phase of the the government’s Responsibility Deal.

Food producers and retailers have been under pressure to show they are taking serious steps to cut fat, salt and sugar from foods, as well as to improve healthy options for consumers. Last week, the public health minister Anna Soubry warned brands to act voluntarily or face the introduction of legislation.

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