Sugar Tax

Sugar tax and nutritional labelling enforced under lobby group’s plans

By Nicholas Robinson

- Last updated on GMT

67% of men and 57% of women respectively in the UK are overweight or obese
67% of men and 57% of women respectively in the UK are overweight or obese

Related tags Nutrition Prime minister david cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron is facing increased pressure from the sugar lobby group Action on Sugar (AoS) to implement a heavy tax on sugary food and drink and to enforce nutritional labelling on menus to help tackle the UK’s growing obesity epidemic.

The added pressure follows a call from the Members of the Commons' Health Select Committee, who today (30 November) backed the introduction of a sugar tax on soft drinks in a childhood obesity report.

Yet, taxing sugary food and drink could cost the pub trade millions, JD Wetherspoon’s chairman Tim Martin has previously said. While mandatory nutritional labelling on menus would be difficult to implement across the sector, other commentators warned.

AoS’s plan for Cameron:

  • Reformulation of sugar and fat in food and drink
  • Stop the promotion of unhealthy food and drink
  • Prevent all types of marketing of unhealthy food and drink to children and adolescents
  • A 20% duty on all sugar-sweetened soft drinks and confectionery
  • All public sector food must meet strict guidelines
  • Uniform colour-coded labelling to be present on all foods for retail and out-of-home

If Cameron chooses to follow AoS’s six-point-plan to reduce sugar intake in the UK, sugary food and drink would be taxed by 20%; the promotion of unhealthy food would be prohibited; and a uniform colour-coded labelling scheme would have to be present on all menus.

Food and drink businesses would also have to reduce the sugar content in their products by 50% in five years and reduce fat by 20% within the same period.

AoS is a group set up to spearhead sugar reduction in the UK, consisting of the same experts who, in 2011, successfully lobbied to reduce salt intake among Brits by 15% under the name of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH).

Chair of AoS Professor Graham MacGregor, who also headed CASH, urged Cameron to push ahead with the six points ahead of the release of the government's Childhood Obesity plan, which is scheduled to be published early next year.

‘Unique opportunity’

“David Cameron now has a unique opportunity to produce a coherent, structured evidence-based plan to prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay,” said MacGregor.

“These conditions are preventable if the food environment is changed. Current policies are ineffective and we now require policies that work.”

It is believed 67% of men and 57% of women in the UK are overweight or obese, as well as more than a quarter of children.

If Cameron agrees to the plans food businesses, including those in the hospitality sector, would be prevented from promoting unhealthy food and drink.

Hard healthy choices

“It is too hard to make healthy choices in the obesogenic environment we live in. Government regulation is essential.”

  • Source: ​Jenny Rosborough

Furthermore, the portion sizes of all foods would have to be reduced and businesses that failed to cut the amount of sugar and fat in their products through reformulation would face further taxes.

AoS campaign manager and nutritionist Jenny Rosborough said: “Given that the food and drink we consume is the biggest cause of premature death and disability in the UK, Cameron must show us that he is making the battle against obesity an absolute priority.

“It is too hard to make healthy choices in the obesogenic environment we live in. Government regulation is essential.”

Myths about sugar

Last week the AB Sugar-owned information service Making Sense of Sugar (MSS) launched a campaign to dispel what it claimed ​were sugar myths.

MSS's five sugar 'myths'

  1. Sugar is high in calories
  2. Sugar is only used to sweeten products
  3. Some sugars are better for you than others
  4. Sugars are hidden in a lot of pre-packaged food and drinks in the UK
  5. The body can survive without sugar

The campaign launched ahead of National Sugar Week this week (30 November – 6 December) and followed celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s pressure on the government to implement a sugar tax.

Oliver, who last month (October) told Cameron to “be brave” and tax sugar, recently implemented a 10% tax on sugary drinks in his restaurants.

In a direct attack against initiatives such as Oliver’s and AoS’s the Yorkshire chef, author and cookery teacher Nigel Brown launched a Twitter campaign called #EatWhatYouLike​. He said celebrity chefs and government bodies were imposing too many rules on people about what to eat.

Such campaigns against sugar had the potential to damage businesses, particularly pub restaurants, he claimed.

“If people are conscious because the government are saying ‘don’t eat too much sugary food’, then there’s your desserts revenue gone for a start.”

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