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Industry hits back at Australia’s ‘flawed’ soft-drink campaign

By RJ Whitehead , 21-Jan-2013

Just days after a massive public health campaign to tackle the overconsumption of soft drinks was launched, the initiative has already drawn its critics, with one group suggesting the campaign’s demands are “short-sighted” and “lazy”.

Backed by the Cancer Council, Diabetes Australia and the Heart Foundation of Australia, and supported by TV advertising, the “Time to Rethink Sugary Drinks” campaign claims to be the first of its kind, and calls for changes to the way sugar-sweetened beverages are made available. 

Its organisers have even demanded an investigation by the treasury to look at ways additional taxes can be applied to sugary drinks with the aim of changing purchasing habits. They have also asked schools to limit their sale and availability

The move comes as part of an effort to reduce weight gain, which is reaching critical levels in Australia.

Kilojoules not the issue

However, Geoff Parker, CEO of the Beverages Council, says soft drinks are being unfairly targeted. “Focusing on a single source of kilojoules in the diet hasn’t worked in the past and ignores the concept of the total diet,” he said. 

No one food or beverage causes overweight or obesity. Consuming more kilojoules than what is burnt through physical activity is what leads to weight gain.”

Instead, he said the Australian beverage industry should be recognised for its efforts to address public health issues. 

Over the last decade the Australian beverage industry has taken a proactive approach to being part of the solution in addressing the complex and multifactorial issue of obesity,” said Parker.

In that time it claims to have implemented voluntary measures including restricting the marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages to children under 12, promoting kilojoule labelling, reformulating products to include low- or no-kilojoule options and restricting the sale of sugar-sweetened soft drinks to primary schools.

Immense ramifications

Meanwhile, shopkeepers have hit out at the campaign’s call to implement tax on soft drinks, saying that such a move would place a burden on business.

"The economic ramifications for manufacturers, suppliers and retailers would be immense, yet the potential for such measures to achieve improved health outcomes is unknown," said Australasian Association of Convenience Stores executive director Jeff Rogut.

"Applying tax to certain items because those items have an emotional association to obesity in the minds of some groups is not only flawed, it's short-sighted and lazy."

In the 12 months to October 2012, Australians bought 1.28bn litres of carbonated and still drinks with sugar, with regular cola drinks being the most popular at 447, litres. 

The 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found that almost half of children between 2 and 16 consumed sugar-sweetened beverages including energy drinks daily, with a quarter consuming sugary soft drinks daily. 

Have your say: Do you agree with the Beverages Council that soft drinks need no more regulation, or should the government get involved to influence on their purchase? Let us know in the box below.