Industry hits back at calls for UK tax on sugary drinks

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

'A doctor recently told me that diet-related disease is one of the defining crises of our time. We need the government to step up,' said Oliver.
'A doctor recently told me that diet-related disease is one of the defining crises of our time. We need the government to step up,' said Oliver.

Related tags Nutrition

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has put the spotlight back on sugar with a call for a tax on sugary drinks – but industry has accused him of simplifying a complex problem.

Oliver’s online petition​, launched with the Children’s Health Fund, calls on the government to consider a tax on high-sugar drinks as one third of British children are now obese.

It claimed a tax of 7p per regular-sized can (or 20p per litre) would generate £1 billion per year, which could be ploughed into preventative work on childhood obesity and diet-related diseases.

If the petition gets more than 100,000 signatures it must be considered in Parliament – and it is currently almost halfway there, with 54,815 signatures.

The petition came as Sugar Rush,​ a documentary presented by Oliver, aired on UK TV last night and has been trending on social media. 

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'Ineffective and unworkable'

However trade group Food and Drink Federation (FDF) accused Oliver of simplifying a complex problem.

FDF director general, Ian Wright, said: “Additional burdensome taxes on foods or drinks, on top of the already enforced 20% VAT on many foods and drinks, would be regressive, ineffective and unworkable.

“They are rejected by the public. This complex challenge needs a complex solution, one which involves and empowers people, not taxes them” ​ 

FDF pointed to France where a soda tax introduced in 2012 initially led to a drop in sales but which have risen since.

‘Stop relying on industry to act’

Wright also said industry had been delivering on its reformulation promises as part of the UK Responsibility Deal. But this was rejected by Malcolm Clarke, co-ordinator of the Children's Food Campaign, who said the government needed to stop relying on failed voluntary deals with industry and advertising self-regulation and instead consider implementing robust, evidence-based measures.

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“Ultimately, it is industry action to reformulate products, change marketing practices, improve labelling and make healthier options more available and affordable which will make the real difference – and that can only be achieved through strong government action,” ​Clarke said.

The FDF director called Oliver's health campaigning “inconsistent”,​ pointing out his restaurants did not provide nutrition labelling on its menus.

Oliver’s restaurants have added a 10p levy to sugar-sweetened drinks on a voluntary basis, and have so far been joined by restaurant chains Leon and Abokado. They are calling on others to do the same and to donate the money to the Children’s Health Fund.

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