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Sugar tax divides the industry, campaigners claim

By David Burrows , 02-Dec-2016
Last updated on 02-Dec-2016 at 14:57 GMT2016-12-02T14:57:47Z

“It’s time the FDF and other trade bodies fully engage with the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan [which includes the tax on sugary drinks].” ©iStock/piotr_malczyk
“It’s time the FDF and other trade bodies fully engage with the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan [which includes the tax on sugary drinks].” ©iStock/piotr_malczyk

The UK’s food and drink industry might not be as fiercely opposed to a tax on sugary beverages as industry representatives claim, according to a new survey.

A number of major firms, including Birdseye, Premier and Allied Bakeries, have “no position” on the new levy, according to a poll of 55 high profile Food and Drink Federation (FDF) members by the health campaign group Children’s Food Campaign.

The findings come just days before the government is expected to include the policy within its draft finance legislation. A consultation on the levy only ended on 13 October, so the announcement on Monday, 5 December, is likely to be light on detail - and that leaves plenty of room for further lobbying.

The FDF, which represents manufacturers in the UK, has been a vocal critic of the sugar tax concept – and at the forefront of efforts to block it.

The Children’s Food Campaign claimed the Federation’s position might not be in line with some of those it represents, though.

“It’s time the FDF and other trade bodies fully engage with the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan [which includes the tax on sugary drinks], rather than spend hundreds of thousands of pounds and many hours of staff time trying to defeat an effective measure to improve children’s health,” said the campaign’s coordinator Malcolm Clark.

Clark called on industry representatives to use Monday’s announcement as a chance to “press the reset button”. “FDF could be helping more companies to follow the lead of Tesco and [FDF members] Lucozade Ribena Suntory and commit to reduce the sugar in all of their soft drinks below the five grams per 100ml threshold that would trigger the tax,” he added.

That seems unlikely – at least while the policy remains open to negotiation (see our analysis here ). Tim Rycroft, FDF corporate affairs director, remained resolute this week when he said: "FDF has, on behalf of its members, responded to the public consultation on the soft drink levy because, as we've said consistently, it is not a proven tool for achieving sustained calorie reduction in the national diet.”

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