Australia

PM dashes renewed calls for sugar tax

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Nutrition

Australian consumers already pay enough taxes at the supermarket and should not be forced to pay an extra 20% for sweetened drinks, the prime minister has said.

Facing renewed calls to implement a sugar tax, Malcolm Turnbull joined the food industry in stating that it should not be seen as the solution to Australia’s obesity crisis. 

Besides paying more for groceries, Turnbull questioned where to draw the line. 

"There is a lot of sugar in a  bottle of orange juice, are you going to put a tax on that​?" he told Nine Network. 

The government is being pressed to introduce the tax as part of an eight-point plan drawn up by a coalition of health and community groups that is calling for urgent action to tackle the increasing obesity among Australians.

In addition to a 20% tax, groups including the Obesity Policy Coalition, Cancer Council, the Heart Foundation and several universities also want restrictions on junk food television advertising, a national obesity task force and mandatory health star ratings by mid-2019.

Obesity Policy Coalition executive manager Jane Martin said the government must act quickly to address the problem, whereby an estimated 63% of Australian adults are either overweight or obese.

This translates to an estimated annual cost to the health budget of around A$8.6bn (US$6.9bn).

"The policies we have set out to tackle obesity aim to not only reduce morbidity and mortality but also improve wellbeing, bring vital benefits to the economy and set Australians up for a healthier future​,' she said.

The prime minister said the strategy for turning round the situation should centre on education, awareness and action. 

"Labelling is very important, health messages through the media, ... but also  exercise. Get up and walk​," he said.

Australia's food and beverages industry also opposes a sugar tax and argues that a broader approach is needed to tackle the problem.

"We believe there is no single cause or quick fix solution​," a joint statement released by eight major food and drinks groups led by the Australian Food  Grocery Council said.

"The industry continues to demonstrate strong compliance with self-regulatory food and beverage advertising codes which have virtually removed all non-core food advertising primarily directed to children​."

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