Ireland ponders sugary drinks tax

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ireland may follow Mexico and the UK and bring in a tax on sugary drinks in a bid to curb obesity.  © iStock
Ireland may follow Mexico and the UK and bring in a tax on sugary drinks in a bid to curb obesity. © iStock

Related tags: United kingdom, Obesity

A tax on sugary drinks is being considered by the Irish government as part of the upcoming budget, a measure condemned by the Irish Beverage Council (IBC) as “costly political posturing”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Finance told the Irish Times​ the issue had been studied in pre-budget tax strategy papers which outlined the options for the Government, adding that all views would be considered in the run up to the budget.

Specific details, such as when such a tax would be introduced, would be dealt with on the day of the budget.

But the director of IBC, Kevin McPartlan, slammed the measure. “In the debate on a sugar tax, simple, verifiable facts are being ignored in favour of populist sound bites based on ill-informed opinion. An additional and blunt tax on one ingredient and product is not an effective way to combat the complex and multi-faceted obesity challenge.

“We are all rightly concerned about obesity but the contention that an additional tax on products which account for just 3% of the calories consumed in Ireland will solve it is nonsense. We already pay VAT on soft drinks. This is an unnecessary additional cost to consumers in Ireland dressed up as a public health measure. It will not solve the root causes of obesity. It is simply another stealth tax".

There is support among public health campaigners, such as the Irish Heart Foundation, and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s Policy Group on Obesity which in April this year called for Ireland to follow the UK’s lead. 

Its co-chair, Professor Donal O’Shea, said: "A tax on sugar sweetened drinks has the strongest evidence of effectiveness of taxation approaches to address overweight and obesity. These include sugar sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drink, sports drinks and fruit-juice concentrates. These products are typically high in calories and energy dense but have few other nutrients (often referred to as empty calories).”

The UK’s sugar tax, which will come into effect in 2018, has been criticised as being too low to be effective and excluding flavoured milk and fruit juices.

Ticking time bomb

"A sugar tax is a crucial step in tackling obesity,” ​added O’Shea. “It can’t come a moment too soon as we continue to battle high rates of obesity. One in four children in Ireland is overweight or obese.”

diet health weight obesity fat iStock.com CharlieAJA
© iStock/CharlieAJA

A statistical modelling study​ by researchers from the World Health Organisation (WHO) using all available data on body mass index (BMI) and trends for obesity and overweight in all 53 of the WHO's Euro-region countries.

It forecast that rates of obesity in Ireland would hit nearly half (47%) the male population by 2030 and the highest rate of obesity for women among all 53 countries at 47% was Ireland.

"The UK and Ireland, where obesity prevalence is among the highest, possess unregulated liberal market economies similar to the US, where the collective actions of big multinational food companies to maximise profit encourages over-consumption.”

In other European countries where rates of obesity – although rising – remain lower than the UK and Ireland, have more regulated economies, however they did note that many factors come into play in contributing to the obesity epidemic.

In a comment article​ for FoodNavigator published this week emeritus professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, Jack Winkler, said: “If government really wants to reduce obesity, it will have to develop a comprehensive policy - more players than just manufacturers, more strategies than just reformulation, more nutrients than just sugar, and more instruments than just taxation.”

This could include taxing total calories, rather than single nutrients, and or sugar itself rather than one product category which uses the ingredient, whilst leaving other sectors – bakery, confectionery and dairy – untouched, he said. 

Related news

Show more

Follow us

Featured Events

View more

Products

View more

Webinars